The Development of Polar Air Routes

The Development of Polar Air Routes

The advantage of the North Pole as a shortcut is evident, but technical and geopolitical issues prevented the full usage of polar routes for commercial transportation until the 1990s. The airspace of eastern bloc countries such as the Soviet Union and China was restricted, forcing airlines to take longer routes avoiding this airspace. The aircraft range was also more limited, which for long-distance hauls often required to use a refueling technical stop. A flight from London to Tokyo would need to transit through Anchorage or go through a circuitous route through Dubai and Hong Kong. Flights from New York and Los Angeles to Tokyo also required a stop at Anchorage.

With the introduction of long-range aircrafts such as the Boeing 747-200 and 777 and the Airbus A340, which have ranges exceeding 13,000 km, nonstop transpolar flights became a possibility. However, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s marked the geopolitical possibility to use the arctic as an intercontinental air route. This allowed bypassing a technical stop at Anchorage with direct connections. London, in particular, could now be directly connected to Tokyo, Beijing, and Hong Kong. Major long-distance air corridors were restructured, leading to the decline of Anchorage as an air passenger hub. However, due to its position as an intermediary location for transpacific cargo flows the airport experienced substantial growth in air cargo activity.