Northwest Gets First Permission to Cross Russian Air Space
EAGAN, Minn. (AP) _ Northwest Airlines has become the first Western airline to acquire permission to cross Russian air space during trans-Pacific flights.
Northwest will save millions of dollars and shorten lengthy travel times on its flights to Asia, while Russia will receive much-sought hard currency in flyover fees from the nation’s fourth-largest airline.
The route, known as Siberia II, will begin Monday with Flight 11 from Detroit to Tokyo. The new route could shave up to an hour off the Detroit-to- Tokyo flight, which now takes about 13 1/2 hours.
Northwest officials estimate that the savings in fuel consumption and lower operating costs will be $10 million a year. But they didn’t say how much the flyover fees would cost the company.
Under the agreement, Northwest can fly two different routes over Russia with any of its trans-Pacific flights. It eventually hopes to have authority for six different routes.
It will pay the Russian government a rate based on the length of the flight. Routes now planned will take Northwest planes over Russian soil for about 2,500 miles.
Other airlines are expected to seek similar permission to fly over Russia.
The agreement shows how much has changed in Russia. Until recently, Soviet fighters aggressively patrolled that airspace to watch for intruders. In 1983, a Korean commercial aircraft was shot down off Sakhalin Island and all 269 on board were killed.
Northwest had been working on the deal for three years and had been yearning for it since 1939, when it first envisioned what it then called the ″Dream Route″ to Asia.
Serious discussions began shortly before then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev visited Minnesota in mid-1989.
Northwest joined an experiment with Soviet aviation authorities and Minneapolis-based Honeywell Inc. to test an airborne satellite-positioning system. During that period, Northwest developed what it called ″a strong working relationship″ with Soviet individuals and organizations.
Bob Buley, Northwest’s aircraft program manager and a member of the negotiating team, said the negotiations were made more difficult by the collapse of the Soviet regime and general chaos in the Russian government.
″We were constrained by the infrastructure,″ he said. ″The most significant thing was finding the right bureaucracy to deal with.″