Norwegian eyeing Siberian Corridor benefits

Norwegian Air Shuttle is pinning its hopes on forthcoming talks between the Norwegian and Russian Government that could see new trans-polar airspace rights allowing the long haul, low cost carrier the opportunity to open new routes to destinations in China, Japan and South Korea, according to the carrier’s chief executive CEO Bjorn Kjos.

On the basis of a 1956 agreement only the regional flag carrier Scandinavian Airlines and Russia’s Aeroflot are allowed to fly the shortest route to Asia over Russia – the so-called Siberian Corridor.

Today, Norway’s agreement with Russia does not include Norwegian Air Shuttle, and this forces the airline to fly much further to reach Asia. The carrier currently operates a Oslo-Bangkok route via polar airspace, but is blocked from accessing other airspace corridors, forcing it to fly further south to avoid Russian airspace.

“For us, it means a detour that involves five to six hours of additional flying time from such cities in China. We have asked the Scandinavian governments to negotiate overflight rights for Norwegian and I hope that they invest resources to make this happen as soon as possible,” said Kjos.

Kjos points out that Gulf carriers such as Emirates and Qatar which currently operate to Norway are primarily interested in ensuring travellers use hub airports in their own countries.

“Norwegian will offer faster and cheaper flights immediately if we got to fly the “short route” to Russia. It would mean that tourists would get to vacation here – and spend their money here,” said Kjos.

Over the next three years, Norwegian’s 787 MAX fleet will increase from the current 12 to 42 and will all be targeted on developing the carrier’s long haul offering from various countries in Europe and the United States.

“This work has just begun on. Asia offers a huge potential, and we have the ambition to stake our claim in the region,” said Kjos.

Norway’s transport minister Øyvind Ek reported the earliest opportunity to hold a Norwegian-Russian meeting to discuss airspace access will occur in the first quarter of next year.

The prospects of opening up polar routeings supported by safe level of surveillance certainly look more assured following news that US-based technology consortium Aireon will explore how the first deployment of Iridium NEXT satellites equipped with its space-based ADS-B technology could help early adopters develop polar routes.

The scheduled January launch will see the deployment of the first 10 from a planned constellation of 66 satellites. Aireon’s Cyriel Kronenburg tells Air Traffic Management s that it will start to test its concept over polar airspace where it will have continuous coverage well before all the launches are complete as each one of the satellites will convene over polar airspace.

“We will work with our new partner FlightAware to see whether we can offer flight tracking to polar flights well in advance of the operational date,” he said. “With the ICAO GADSS fight tracking requirements coming and the pressure that places on the airline industry to have a flight tracking solution, this is one area in the world where there is currently no real time surveillance/tracking capability and therefore one that would be a really good opportunity to start demonstrating the capability.”

He reports that both Nav Canada and the State ATM Corporation of Russia are particularly interested in optimising capacity and routeings. Indeed, the Canadian air navigation service provider reduced lateral separation between qualified aircraft flying in the polar region from 60 nm to 50 nm five years ago, improving its ability to optimise routings for aircraft prior to entering Russian airspace.

The addition of new Russian airspace entry points has also improved capacity and flight profiles. Two new entry points were added in late 2014, and another two were added in 2015, further adding capacity. Air traffic operating on polar routes has shown a marked increase over the years, increasing 15-fold between 2003 and 2015. In 2015, over 14,000 flights used Nav Canada’s polar routes and it is estimated that those polar routes now enable over 600,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emission reductions annually.

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