Only Route across Afghanistan

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jis

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The only route that is allowed to overfly Afghanistan these days is the so called G500-P500 route which crosses Afghanistan's narrow Wakhan Corridor at its narrowest point, illustrated in the Flightradar24 map below. Apparently ATC is provided by agreement between Pakistan and Tajikistan (probably treated like an oceanic crossing) since Afghanistan at present does not have a reliable or even regularly operating ATC service.

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The route is illustrated using a random KLM Amsterdam to Bangkok flight, but this is the route that is used by all United flights to and from India and many Air India, KLM, Virgin, British Airway, Air France, Lufthansa, SAS, Finnair, Singapore Airlines, and occasionally even Qantas flights, to or from the subcontinent and beyond, specially in the westward direction, mostly in order to avoid the strong winter jet stream on their noses. Of course the likes of PIA, Uzbekistan Airways, Air Asthana, Aeroflot etc. also use it on flights from their home airports to the Indian subcontinent and beyond.

One curiosity of this route is that the flights always fly across Afghanistan's Wakhan Corridor with their ADS-B off (see the dashed line) and always at 30,000' or above. According to Safe Airspace, those are the conditions that must be met to use G500-P500. It is otherwise considered to be safe and is done with the tacit approval of the Taliban Government (and who knows probably they are paid some money for it too).

Incidentally United always uses it because the other routing to the subcontinent typically crosses Iran on the shortest route south of Afghaistan, and US planes are forbidden to fly in Iranian airspace. But the European and Asian airlines do not have any such restrictions, and a lot of them fly across Iran, and some even fly further south over Sinai and across Saudi Arabia and the Red Sea.
 
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Willbridge

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That route was pioneered by Lufthansa in the mid-1930's with a team led by WWI pilot Carl August von Gablenz in a Junkers tri-motor. He wrote a widely circulated book about their adventures, although the reprint that I read was missing the preface congratulations from you can guess who.

Their flight went from Berlin to Rhodos (Italian occupied) to Damascus to Baghdad to Tehran to Kabul, then through -- not over -- the Wakhan Pass. If they were to crash on one side they might be in the Soviet Union (Tajikistan) and on the other side in British India. They flew over Chotan and then reached Ansi. It was served by the joint German-Russian line Deruluft. From there they flew over Lanchow to Sianfu, home of the joint German-Chinese line Eurasia. Eurasia's competition was the Chinese-American joint company, China National Aviation Corporation.

They were swept up in the craziness of Soviet, Japanese, Chinese Nationalist, Chinese Communist and warlord rivalries, so the trip home took longer than planned.

From a commercial point of view a route to the Orient through the Pamirs would have been shorter than the existing British imperial route from London to Hong Kong or the French colonial route from Marseille to Hanoi. However, Lufthansa also was supported by the German government and may have been assigned to develop a route that did not rely on economic rivals.

Von Gablenz soon was in a military uniform as head of the Luftwaffe's transport operations.
 

jis

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So the route pioneered by Lufthansa is actually perpendicular to the G500-P500. There is an air corridor across PoK that is used by many airlines to pass from Pakistan to Sinkiang e.g. flights from the Middle East to North or Central China, Korea and Taiwan, and Japan too.

Incidentally, the Wakhan Corridor was a political construct to keep the Russian and British forces separated by a no man's land. Originally it was sliced off from lands of chieftains associated with British India. During the first round of Taliban rule this area was under the jurisdiction of Ahmad Shah Masood, until he was assassinated by the Taliban soon after the fall of Kabul to the Americans.

The Great Circle Route from the vicinity of Delhi to Eastern US is actually surprisingly close to the G500-P500 route and it used to be even closer when flights across Afghanistan over Kabul/Kandahar were permitted. I have flown those routes many times, right over the famous Tora Bora. In January February I will get to fly G500-P500 en-route from Newark to Delhi, and then from Delhi to San Francisco.

Incidentally, the shortest route closest to the Great Circle Route from London to Hong Kong or Singapore flies way further north without any entanglements with the mountains around Himalayas and Tibet.

1636696626977.png
 
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jis

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Some additional ancillary information on routings to/from India that I discovered over the last month or so.

1. The new AA JFK - DEL - JFK flight assiduously avoids Russian air space even though it costs them 1.5 to 2 hours in additional flying time. They are unable to uses a possible shorter southern route that Air India often uses (as does Lufthansa, British Airways, Air France, and heck, even Aeroflot on its Phuket - Moscow flight) because US registered aircraft are not allowed to overfly Iran. Every European Middle Eastern and South Asian airline overflies Iran preferably over trying to negotiate the P500-G500 + Russian airspace whenever they seem to be able to do so.

United OTOH has avoided flying the southern route except when the closure of Pakistan air space forced the issue for a while after India and Pakistan had one of their periodic mutual hissy-fits.

2. The DEL - SFO flight occasionally flies the southern route across India, southeast Asia and Pacific instead of the shorter Polar route if there is enough tail wind to speed them along at 700mph ground speed, or some such.
 
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jis

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It is interesting to follow the path of UA867, the Polar Route SFO - DEL flight. In the following snapshot from Flightradar24 we see it heading towards the G500-P500 crossing.

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G500-P500 almost seems like the worm hole in Deep Space Nine. Of course there is a second path close by across POK from Xinjang (Singkiang) to Pakistan. Other than those two there is no general paths crossing the Himalaya-Karakoram-Hindu Kush (Afghanistan) between Iran in the west and China in the east (around Kunming).

There is a much used crossing from India to China in the east, but not across the Himalayas, the same one that was used by US AAC bombers during WWII (the Hump). There is a local crossing right across the Mt. Everest massif for local flights between Lhasa and Kathmandu. I have flown that route in a China Southern 757 many moons ago. Nice to see the top of Mt. Everest abeam. Who says there is nothing to see while flying?
 
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jis

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I have mentioned earlier the fact that AA uses a more southerly route avoiding Russian Airspace, even though they use G500-P500 to avoid using Iranian air space. As a consequence of that, a delayed departure and very strong jet stream, the DEL-JFK flight today had to carry out a pre-planned diversion to Gander, short of JFK (crew running out of time - sound familiar? ;) ) while UAs flight across Russia via G500-P500 and Arctic Ocean routing, DEL-EWR and BOM-EWR did not face a diversion, and BOM-EWR is actually a longer route.

Both use 77W. As I have mentioned earlier, the northerly route is both closer to the great circle route and hence shorter distance and also avoids the jet stream on ones nose, flying across it to the calmer Arctic climes to make the actual east to west transit.

Here is the full story of what is going on at American regarding the JFK-DEL-JFK flight. It gives a glimpse of the intricacies of operating a ULR flight across multiple country's air spaces.


Meanwhile some people have been erroneously impressed by DL's JNB-ATL flight diverting to BOS yesterday, believeing that was a longer leg. Actually JNB-BOS is quite a bit shorter than JNB-ATL. The cause was mainly high payload due to COVID (omicron) related overload. The aircraft used is an A350-900
 
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west point

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The planned diversions are a result of FAA dispatching rules. International flights have to carry 10% extra + 30 minutes for alternate fuel for the whole flight when dispatched internationally. Once an aircraft gets near the planned diversion point then the 10% extra is much less once re dispatched. That is dispatched to say Gander with that 10% then if enough fuel + 10% available then redispatches to ATL and not have to land at the alternate airport. Or maybe could only be re dispatched to say BOS and then maybe could make ATL or not once near BOS.

BTW HOS does not come into play. Same crew(s) can continue if landing short especially augmented crews. Often 3 or 4 Captain qualified crew members.

EDIT: Note flight plan is filed for full trip with land short noted in other items. Crew tells ATC if have to land short.
 
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jis

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The planned diversions are a result of FAA dispatching rules. International flights have to carry 10% extra + 30 minutes for alternate fuel for the whole flight when dispatched internationally. Once an aircraft gets near the planned diversion point then the 10% extra is much less once re dispatched. That is dispatched to say Gander with that 10% then if enough fuel + 10% available then redispatches to ATL and not have to land at the alternate airport. Or maybe could only be re dispatched to say BOS and then maybe could make ATL or not once near BOS.

BTW HOS does not come into play. Same crew(s) can continue if landing short especially augmented crews. Often 3 or 4 Captain qualified crew members.

EDIT: Note flight plan is filed for full trip with land short noted in other items. Crew tells ATC if have to land short.
I think you are confusing two flights and coming to weird conclusions.

Read the article I attached regarding the AA flight DEL-JFK. It has all the details of what transpired. ATL was not involved with the DEL-JFK flight which diverted to Gander. Apparently AA and their pilots disagree with your understanding. AA had to fly a rescue crew out to Gander. They canceled a JFK-SFO-JFK flight and used that aircraft to ferry the rescue crew to Gander. They pretty much knew when they left Delhi that they are going to Gander and not to New York.

The Delta flight that was diverted dispatched to BOS from JNB was not suddenly going to change course to ATL. This according to Delta insiders in their airliners.net posting.

Incidentally, at least United carries more reserve fuel on flights to India than on other sectors because of what they call "hostile territory" that they have to fl;y over. This has been discussed by a United insider on airliners.net giving details of how much additional reserve is carried.

I get the impression that rules that apply to ULR flights may be quite different from those that apply to garden variety flights.
 

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I was not making an actual flight as the example. It was a broad brush example of required international dispatching. Could have used say a Zurich - ATL flight that is dispatched to BOS until near BOS and then had enough fuel to ATL + 10% + alternate + 30 minutes. Flight plan has all the figures needed. left out alternate in above example. So with this example the original dispatched alternate might be Gander for BOS and then when near BOS and re dispatched by Delta alternate probably BHM or CLT.
 

jis

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Bringing it back to the discussion about India - US flights of AA, apparently on Nov 26th AA started the flight at DEL and then went back to gate twice for unspecified reasons, and then due to crew timeout cancelled the flight and then finally operated a makeup flight under a different flight number more than 24 hours later. The original incident I mentioned was on a subsequent flight where possibly AA did not want to repeat the Nov 26th experience and chose to go for diversion instead. Originally they planned to divert to Bangor and had positioned a crew there, but due to stronger than expected headwind they did not make it to Bangor and diverted to Gander instead, leading to the rescue operation and cancellation of the JFK-SFO-JFK flight to find the plane to mount the rescue operation. Fascinating stuff. Shows how complex things can get behind the scenes.

But the bottom line is that these ULR flights are already somewhat complicated to operate and for this sector not having overflight rights over Russia makes the mission even more challenging specially in the winter months when the jet stream flows stronger. That extra 1.5 hour flying time makes all the difference when the planes are operating close to their limits.

We saw a lot of these added complexities even for United when Pakistan airspace was closed for several months a few years back. United actually cancelled its flight to Delhi and flew only to Mumbai via Sinai and Saudi Arabia out to Arabian Sea, until Pakistan opened one corridor from the Arabian Sea towards Delhi. Finally US brought some painful economic threats to bear causing Pakistan to reopen the corridor from Afghanistan to India, restoring normalcy.
 

jis

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Oh well. Looks like AA DEL - JFK is diverting to Bangor today (12/1/21)....

1638390904885.png

While United DEL - EWR will make it to EWR in 14 hours and change.

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All images courtesy of Flightradar24.

Even the UA BOM - EWR will make it in 15 hours and change and arrive EWR ahead of schedule after leaving BOM 25 minutes late. The wonders of sub-Polar routing close to the great circle route.
 
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jis

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This prediction is after only 1:18 of a 14:00 flight.
It could get stuck behind a freight train and arrive 6 hours late :)
Oh, yeah, this isn't Amtrak.
One time when traveling in the pre-Polaris Diamond Lie-flat equipped Business First on Continental EWR - DEL flight (777-200ER), a Continental Captain was deadheading to Delhi for some reason, and he was in the aisle seat while I was in the window seat, and we got chatting. He explained to me how mission planning is done and then executed for each of these ULR flights flying over remote areas. I was completely blown over by the meticulous planning that goes for each flight, and how all possible alternatives in case of problems are chalked out ahead of time. It is not like they jump into the cockpit and off they go. There is hours of planning involving many people that goes into each flight, and more often than not they are pretty close to the plan at the end of the flight. There is of course some deviation that is inevitable, but the outcome at the end is well within the envelope established in the original plan, usually.

Unfortunately such is completely impossible in the happy go lucky operation of railroads as practiced in the US and a few other places.
 
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Just to be sure: PoK = Pakistan occupied Kashmir, right (almost typed Korea there, that'd be something)?

This is really a fascinating thread, one of my friends traveled to India a lot in the before times (often via Madrid or London for business reasons) and my Indian colleagues talk about the new direct flights and various routings.
 
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jis

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Went and had another look at what's going on in G500-P500 today (12/14/21). Looks like its use has grown by leaps and bounds. From the original 4 United 1 AA and a handful of miscellaneous European airlines using it, now Singapore alone runs 15+ flights through there everyday. BA appears to run all their South and Southeast Asia flights through there at least westbound. And then there are several other European airlines, in addition to even Air India and PIA using more of it. One of the more exotic flights is the Air Astana Almaty to Male flight and some other airline I forget Tashkent to Phuket flight. And of course there is still are the daily AA and the 4 UA and a few each of the other European carriers. LH has more than a handful usually.

Oddly Aeroflot completely avoids the route. I guess they are still scared of the Afghans and the Tajiks and Ferghana Valley, which never allowed to have them any peace when they ruled down there. 😏
 

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The planned diversions are a result of FAA dispatching rules. International flights have to carry 10% extra + 30 minutes for alternate fuel for the whole flight when dispatched internationally.
Ok, this is somewhat off the subject of the thread but does discuss the extra fuel requirement. I would consider this 10% +30 minutes much too close. I had one experience about 24 years ago where that sort of extra would have left us swimming. This was Hong Kong (not the new airport) to Taipei, CKS airport. A very busy air corridor, with multiple daily flights by China Airlines, which is a Taiwan company, Eva, and Cathy Pacific. It is only about an hour and 10 minutes flight. I was on a China Airlines flight, my usual carrier, but on this occasion for business reasons instead of my usual every third weekend with the family. On this occasion, due to storms, the departure was delayed, but ultimately it was decided that it could be done. We took off, had a very bumpy flight, and then about half way into approach I heard the engines rev back up. It was announced that we would circle awaiting weather improvement. Nope. Announced diversions to Kaohsiung (southern Taiwan, second largest city on the island), about 30 minutes away. About half way there it was announced that conditions there no good. By this time the pilot was sufficiently flustered that he did not even, as the usual case, make the announcement in English following making it in Mandarin Chinese. He then announced we were returning to Hong Kong. By this time we had been in the air nearly two hours. As we were about halfway back to HKG, the announcement was made that HKG had no space for the plane so we were diverting to Macau. We landed there with no problems, spent the night, and took off from Macau the next morning in the same plane for an uneventful flight to Taipei. Don't know about the cockpit crew, but this was with the same cabin crew., so I suspect the cockpit crew was also the same. At the time of landing we had been in the air right at 3 hours for what was supposed to be an 1:10 duration flight. Incidentally, the airline did not serve Macau, so it might be that the pilots had never landed there before. By the time we were approaching Macau I was thinking we are going to land soon somewhere whether it is on a runway or not. If I had known 10% + 30 minutes was considered adequate it would have been near panic time.
 

jis

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Very good points.

At least UA has stated openly that they carry more reserve fuel than minimum required by FAA on routes that they consider to be flying over hostile territory - which basically means not that many usable airports, and usable airports possibly congested. That is why they carry way more fuel than required minimums. But apparently these routes on which they run premium heavy wide bodies have high farebox returns to make it worthwhile.

I am sure similar factors play into what other airlines do on ULRs too.

These ULR flights carry 1.5 to 2 full sets of cockpit crew, and have lie flat rest area for the crew that is off duty.

Recently there was kerfuffle going on in AA on how much additional crew they should carry on their JFK-DEL-JFK flights until they get Russian overflight rights.
 

jis

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Today (12/27/21) there must be some really strong jet stream flowing even a little further North. I just noticed that UA 802 DEL - EWR went straight north across Siberia well east of the Urals and went all the way north to 84N or thereabout before passing the northern tip of Greenland ad is now heading SSW through Greenland towards Newark expected into Newark in 5 hours. The BOM - EWR and DEL - ORD flights are following almost an identical path.

AI 105 DEL - EWR OTOH is flying closer to the great circle route, going only upto 74N which is still north of the GCR, and is taking an hour and a half longer than the UA flight. Pretty interesting
 

west point

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let us look back in history. After then end of WW-2 only 2 US carriers flew from the US to far east. Pan Am took the route thru Hawaii - Guam- Japan. Northwest (NW) air flew from Seattle by the great circle route.

Search and rescue in northern Canada and Alaska is very limited. NW to improve chances of their airplanes (piston at that time) painted their aircraft tails a bright red to improve visibility from the air for any search aircraft. That history is why NW had some red on their aircraft until merging with Delta.
 

jis

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As of 1/4/22 it looks like the Jet Stream has been blowing hard for the last week or so, into the new year 2022.

Singapore Airlines JFK - SIN flight has been flying through G500-P500 and then across India to get the best time even though it is quite a bit longer route than the Great Circle Polar route!. At one point it was zooming along at 680mph ground speed!. At this moment it is down to 654mph.

American Airline westbound DEL - JFK has been consistently getting a divert to Bangor ME as they still do not have Russia overflight rights and so are unable to follow the sub polar route that United, Air India and Air Canada have been taking each day to avoid the adverse interaction with the Jet Stream when flying westbound..
 
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