Saving significant fuel costs and time, Air India will soon start flying over the Pacific Ocean region for its lucrative direct services to San Francisco from here with aviation regulator DGCA approving the new route.
The regulatory nod comes as a boost for the national carrier, which would be doubling the frequency of its Delhi-San Francisco direct flights to six per week from November.
Air India would also be the first Indian carrier to operate on the Pacific region route where weather conditions and speed of winds would help the airline in reducing fuel burn and the overall journey time.
Officials said the route would be a "win-win situation" for the carrier as well as passengers as it would save crores of rupees worth of fuel costs and also reduce the flying time by up to three hours.
Approving the request from Air India for services through the new route, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has issued a detailed operational circular.
Some years ago, Jet Airways used to have Mumbai-Shanghai- San Francisco connection service which was stopped.
A senior DGCA official said using the new route would help in saving a lot of fuel as well as time.
In the new route, Air India would fly eastwards to reach San Francisco by crossing the vast Pacific Ocean.
Even though the route would be almost 1,400 km more compared to the current trajectory where the flight flies over the Atlantic, there would be significant saving on fuel and journey time due to powerful tailwinds.
"The Boeing 777-200 LR aircraft, used on the Delhi-San Francisco route by Air India will get only strong tailwinds on its eastward journey and cut flying time by up to three hours," a senior pilot said.
According to the pilot, the plane, on an average, burns 9,600 litres fuel for each hour of flying.
"Reducing the flying time to SFO from an hour in summer to three hours in winter (due to high tailwinds then) will mean huge fuel saving. So it will be a win-win for fliers and the airline as passengers will reach San Francisco faster while the airline will burn less fuel," he said.
Explaining how the aircraft would fly faster, the pilot said earth rotates from west to east and winds also flow in that direction.
So, flying west means facing strong headwinds (that decreases an aircraft's actual ground speed and more fuel is spent), while flying east means getting strong tailwinds which raises the speed and lessens fuel consumption, he added.
"While taking the western route to San Francisco, we usually face headwinds of 24 kmph. If our aircraft is doing 800 kmph, its actual ground speed is 776 kmph. Taking the (eastern) Pacific route to San Francisco will mean getting tailwinds of 138 kmph which will make the aircraft have an actual ground speed of 938 kmph," the pilot said.
In summer, flying time to SFO over Pacific will be 16 hours an hour less than the Atlantic route. And in winter, the difference will be as high as up to three hours between the two routes, said the official.
DGCA's latest operational circular, issued this month, would be for operations in the North Pacific area where there are fixed tracks NOPAC (North Pacific) and flexible tracking PACOTS (Pacific Organised Track System) along with UPR (User Preferred Routes) in defined areas.
"North Pacific region has airspace managed by Canada, Japan, Russia and the United States. The Pacific region is also characterised by vast oceanic areas with sparse land areas and consequently few enroute alternate aerodromes for flight planned across this," it said.
Among others, DGCA said all Pacific operations training courses should get approved by its FSD, DGCA before use as well as prior to the syllabus getting incorporated in the Operators Manual.
Besides, recurrent training would be required annually.