From next month Air India aircraft flying on the Delhi-San Francisco (SFO)-Delhi route will circumnavigate the earth as it will go round the world in less than 36 hours. The Maharaja currently takes the western route while flying Delhi to SFO by crossing the Atlantic, covering a distance of 13,900 km in up to 17 hours. And it flies back home taking the same route in an hour less.
From next month, AI plans to fly east to SFO by crossing the vast Pacific Ocean. While this route is almost 1,400 km longer, the Boeing 777-200 (long range or LR) aircraft will get only strong tail winds on its eastward journey and cut flying time by up to three hours. On the return, the plane will fly over the Atlantic. Thus by the time the plane reaches Delhi, it would have gone round the earth is just about a day-and-a-half.
The B-777 200 LR, 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) will mean huge fuel saving. The new route, thus, promises to a win-win for all as travellers will reach SFO faster and the airline will burn less fuel.
"The earth rotates from west to east and winds also flow in that direction. Flying west means facing strong headwinds (that decreases an aircraft's actual ground speed) and flying east means getting strong tailwinds, which does the opposite. While taking the (western) Atlantic route to SFO, 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 SFO will mean getting tailwinds of 138 kmph which will make the aircraft have an actual ground speed of 938 kmph," said a senior AI official.
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.
The airline has sent its Pacific route proposal to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation for clearance as no Indian carrier has flown this route nonstop to the west coast. Jet Airways used to have a Mumbai-Shanghai-SFO connection some years ago.
The Atlantic route to SFO sees AI fly over Pakistan, Afghanistan, CIS, Russia, Norway, north Iceland, Greenland; crossing the Atlantic to Canada and then entering the US airspace through Seattle. For the Pacific route, AI has chosen this flight plan: Delhi to Bangladesh, Myanmar, China, South Korea, Japan, crossing the Pacific's vast oceanic airspace and then flying directly to the Golden Gate city. AI avoided Russia on this route due to two issues: lack of adequate alternate airports for landing in an emergency and language problems.
"We will mostly return to Delhi taking the Atlantic route. But for some days in a year, we may fly over the Pacific if it leads to some time-saving and translate into less fuel burn," said the official.