Wednesday, 26 March 2008 06:35
Dear Capt Lim,
Thank you very much for your site. I find it very informative! Although the odds of this happening are slim to none, it always sparked my curiosity as to what would happen after an in-flight emergency force a plane to land in the Arctic Circle.
Say for example, a Boeing 777 departing O'Hare and arriving in Hong Kong suffers an in-flight emergency forcing the captain to land the aircraft immediately while flying over the Arctic Circle.
a. Would the captain be able to make a safe landing?
b. If the aircraft was able to land safely, how long would the plane be able to protect itself from the bitter weather?
c. Is there any sort of procedure for a rescue flight for the stranded passengers?
Thank you very much in advance!
Before an airline is allowed to operate across the Polar region (within the Arctic Circle), regulatory bodies, such as the FAA will ensure that carriers are adequately prepared to conduct such operations. Amongst other requirements, "airlines must define a sufficient set of alternate airports, such that one or more can be reasonably expected to be available in varying weather conditions. The FAA will assess the operators' ability to safely land and maneuver airplanes off the runways at selected alternate airports. The selected alternates also must be able to provide for crew and passenger needs."
In addition, "All operators must have an FAA-approved recovery plan for unplanned diversions. The recovery plan should address the care and safety of passengers and crew at the diversion airport and provide a plan to transport passengers and crew from that airport. Operators should be able to demonstrate their ability to launch and conduct the recovery plan on their initial applications for polar route approval."
1. So in the event of an emergency, there will always be a suitable airport for the captain of the Boeing 777 to land as it has an ETOPS of more than 3 hours in case of an engine failure.
2. If the plane were able to land safely, how long would the plane be able to protect from the bitter weather? Well, if the plane were to land at one of their nominated emergency airports, the airlines would be able to launch and conduct the recovery of the passengers as soon as possible. If it were a crash landing elsewhere, then it would be problematic in view of the bitter cold in the Arctic. However, FAA stipulates that there "must be a minimum of two cold-weather anti-exposure suits on board North Polar flights so that outside coordination at a diversion airport can be accomplished safely". In the worst case scenario, I can only quote of a very old case about the Andes Mountains Crash in 1972 where 16 survivors endured 72 days in bitter cold before they were rescued. If you have the time, you can watch a video below. (Fearful flyers - please do not watch it!)
3. Yes, there are emergency procedures for the rescue of stranded passengers - more likely an International effort by the airlines and the country where the plane went down.
See the previous 3 FAQ that is related to Polar Routes flying below:-
a. How safe is the New York to Hong Kong flight via the Polar Route?
b. Polar Routes and ice protection systems of the Boeing 777.
c. Many queries from a Flight Dispatcher about Polar Routes.