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   Written by: CHIU Hung-yu      June 2009

  1. Flights at very high latitudes (>78oN) are called polar flights. In this part of the world, they are mainly long-haul flights between Asia and the North America, flying over the Arctic starting from the late 1990s. The number of polar flights has dramatically increased over the last decade.


    Year Number of polar flights operated by an American airline
    1999 12
    2007 1832
    Table 1 - Polar route usage by commercial airlines has grown markedly in recent years
    (Source: The Potential Role of WMO in Space Weather, WMO, 2008)

    Polar flights not only save time but also fuel, hence lowering the operating cost.

    Polar routes Time saved
    Atlanta - Seoul 124 minutes
    Boston - Hong Kong 138 minutes
    Los Angeles - Bangkok 142 minutes
    New York - Singapore 209 minutes
    Table 2 - Examples of time savings per flight using polar routes
    (Source: "Integrating Space Weather Observations & Forecasts into Aviation Operations" - American Meteorological Society & SolarMetrics Policy Workshop Report, March 2007)

    During intense solar activities, approaching charged particles in the solar wind can be trapped by the Earth's geomagnetic field and guided towards the geomagnetic polar regions. This sometimes creates the beautiful phenomenon of aurora. However, it also produces a higher dose of radiation in the upper atmosphere over the polar regions. Precautionary measures are necessary for pilots, crews, as well as passengers who travel often. [see "Radiation Tidbits - Air Travel and Cosmic Radiation" for related topics]


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    References:

  1. "Integrating Space Weather Observations & Forecasts into Aviation Operations" - American Meteorological Society & SolarMetrics Policy Workshop Report, March 2007.
  2. "ICAO News Release" - International Civil Aviation Organization, 24 January 2001.
  3. "The Potential Role of WMO in Space Weather" - WMO Space Programme, World Meteorological Organization, April 2008.
  4. "Space Weather and Polar Operations - An Airline's Perspective", by Gene Cameron, in "Space Weather: An Evolving Science & Policy Issues" seminar of the American Meteorological Society, 18 July 2007

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Last revision date: <22 Jan 2013>