Flying Over a Country? - Pay Toll

Source: Times Of India:

A Mumbai-New York flight can take anywhere between 14 and 17 hours. The three-hour difference is not to be sniffed at, especially if it means arriving at a respectable 10 pm instead of an ungodly 1.00 am. Most people believe that flying time is determined by the horse power of the aircraft or the squalls en route. But there's a political factor at work here that perhaps even savvy jet-setters aren't aware of: the overflying charge.

Fastidious passengers who obsessively compare inflight services –– does Air France offer more leg room? Is the smoked salmon more succulent on Lufthansa? –– should perhaps learn a little more about the terms of passage. Simply put, the overflying fee is the whopping charge levied by a sovereign nation for allowing foreign aircraft to use its airspace. It's like a toll tax in the sky, ostensibly to cover the cost of providing navigational aid to aircraft, but that's just a handy excuse to make airlines pay. Flying over a country without landing on its soil is one of the basic rights given to the 129 member-states of the International Air Services Transit Agreement. This right is known more poetically as the First Freedom of the Air, and can be a useful diplomatic weapon. Following the December 2001 attack on Parliament, India withdrew overflying rights to Pakistan, which promptly reciprocated the favour, forcing Indian planes to take a more roundabout route to Europe. Rights were later restored on both sides. Tiny Israel is one of the hardest hit with Arab neighbours such as Saudi Arabia refusing to open their airspace to El Al.

As recession-hit airlines turn into Scrooges — charging for check-in luggage, and in the case of a European budget carrier, even toying with the idea of paid toilets –– there's a renewed focus on computing the cost of real estate in the sky. Passengers could soon be faced with two options, say, on a Delhi-London trip: pay more to fly as the crow flies (or close to), or save some cash and arrive an hour later.

Each country has its own unique way of deciding how much to charge. While some levy a fixed fee, others resort to more complex calculations. If a strip of land is sandwiched between two strife-torn countries, an airline has to pay more to use this ‘safe' corridor. Iran, for one, squeezed between Iraq and Afghanistan, charges a bomb — in 2006, it had an average of 350 over-flights a day, which earned it a neat $650,000 to $700,000 daily. The average cost per flight over Iran works out to Rs 92,590.

If it isn't geopolitics, it's the strategic location of a country that gives it leverage. Chile charges planes on the basis of their entry and exit points – since most planes enter its airspace from the north, all northern entry and exit routes are charged almost double of those flying in from and out to the east. Iceland has raised direction-sensitivity to a fine art, with different rates for the latitudes and longitudes that an aircraft flies past. China charges in US dollars: in 2002, the fee was $1 per km. The US levies a toll of about $33.72 per 190 km. India, Indonesia and 30 nations in Europe that are jointly under Eurocontrol have their own formula based on the weight of aircraft and distance travelled.

As for the airlines, flight paths are constantly being redrawn, sometimes on the day itself, based on a number of factors: fuel burned, wind speed/direction, location of fixed navigational aids along the way, avoidance of military air traffic corridors, crowding, the political situation of countries. "For most airlines, the least fuel-burn route is generally the cheapest, which means they don't consider taking diversions to avoid overflying fees," a commander said. "But for long-haul and ultra-long-haul flights, it makes sense to avoid countries like Iran, which charge about four times more."

Even in the case of short flights, it sometimes makes sense to avoid the toll. An airline official gave an example. A Houston to Honolulu flight can either wing past Mexico or take a short detour via San Diego in California. "This detour adds only 13 miles," he said, "so if the winds are favourable, it makes sense to avoid Mexico's overflying charges."

Another example is the Tango Route. The direct route from the UK to the Canary Islands involves flying over France, Spain and Portugal, with £1,578 in overflying charges. The Tango Route, which entails a 100-mile diversion over the Atlantic, has an airspace fee of only £968. The direct route uses about 13.1 tonnes of fuel and takes four hours. Tango uses a little more, 15 tonnes of fuel, and takes marginally longer, about 4 hours and 20 minutes. The £600 of overflying money saved per flight typically outweighs the cost of flying an additional 100 miles.

It is useful to know if you're being taken to your destination by a longer route. The next time you board a long flight, take a few moments to check that backseat flight-path monitor to see the route your aircraft is taking. India-Europe flights have three route options. The first is a northern route that takes you over Afghanistan and the CIS countries, the second is over Pakistan and Iran, the third over Dubai and Turkey. For an India-US flight across the Atlantic, there are six potential routes, one of which is suggested every day by the US authorities, depending on the weather. "This route is provided to pilots a day in advance and gives the best fuel savings,'' said a senior commander.

"Right up to the seventies, flight routes were planned manually and the same route would be followed month after month, changing only when bad weather was forecast," says Capt Hassan Al-Mousawi, vice-president, operations safety and quality, Jet Airways. Then, flight-planning computers were introduced, marking a huge leap forward and cutting out the need for manual calculations. Once the relevant data is keyed in, the computer throws up the cheapest route along with a number of options such as least-time, least-fuel-burn and best-place-for-fuel-uplift route. "If you are running late, you follow the minimum-time-profile and go at a speed higher than normal," said Capt Hassan.

National carrier Air India will have a new flight-path system in place next year whose wisdom, it hopes, will save it $15 million annually. "If a country's overflying charges are too high, the system will guide you to a cheaper one," said a spokesperson for Air India.

Advanced systems have now become a critical factor in cost control. IATA estimates that airlines spend over $25 billion a year on route navigation fees. Airline after airline — from BA, Singapore Airlines and Emirates to Continental and Delta –– have upgraded their systems or are doing so.

"It makes sense to save on overflying fees on long-haul routes as long as other factors fall into place," said Maneesh Jaikrishna, director for South Asia and India, SITA, an IT solutions provider which has 220 airlines using its flight planning software. On a 12-hour flight, a smart flight plan can save up to 800 kg, or one tonne of fuel, he added. There are quite a few airlines that pay much less for fuel than those in India and they can easily afford the extra flying.

The journey, in a sense, has become as important as the destination. Sample this: a European carrier boasts that its flight to Buenos Aires goes over the Canary Islands, "unlike" the competition, which takes a bypass to avoid the notorious fee that this minuscule landmass extracts for passing over its beautiful blue sky. The European carrier's message, of course, is that it is thoughtfully shelling out steep overflying fees so that its passengers can get to their beef steaks and beer that much quicker.

theFundooGeek recommended reading :

Comments :

0 comments to “Flying Over a Country? - Pay Toll”

Post a Comment

What are other's reading?