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Unmanned Cross-Polar Flights

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Unmanned Cross-Polar Flights

Keflavik International Airport

Keflavík Airport. Photo: Zoë Robert.

The number of flights over the North Pole will increase in coming years, especially the number of unmanned cargo flights, RÚV reports.

This was the message of Ásgeir Pálsson, director of the air navigation services division at Isavia, who spoke at the Arctic Circle conference at Harpa concert hall last weekend. He believes Iceland could play an important role in such flights.

Scheduled flights over the North Pole began in 1998 and since then, technological advances have been enormous. Every year, 15,000 flights cross the polar region, going between China and North America. That route is three hours shorter than traditional routes. Next year, air traffic over the polar region is expected to increase by 17 percent.

Ásgeir expects the new route to result in substantial fuel savings, decreased emissions, increased efficiency and income for Iceland. “No cross-polar flights have yet begun from Iceland, but I think it’s just a matter of time before flights begin from Keflavík across the Pole, because it shortens the route considerably to Cina, Korea and Japan.

In the future, Ásgeir said cargo planes will be unmanned. “Those kinds of flights are easiest to do over the Pole ― long-range flights in well organizes air space, where not much is underneath, dense population or anything like that. Also, to land at an airport like Keflavík, on the outskirts of the Northern region, and there you can bring those planes.”

Ideas for Iceland to become a center for shipping in the Arctic are not new. There have been talks about building a transshipment port for cargo ships in Finnafjörður, Northest Iceland.

Ásgeir said the technology for launching unmanned cargo flights does exist: “Iceland could play a role by having such planes come into Keflavík straight from Asia; then the goods could be distributed from there, either by cargo flight or by a combined passenger/cargo flight.”

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