The Pacific route is almost 1,400km longer than the Atlantic one, and the flight covered 15,300 kilometres in 14.5 hours. Despite the route being longer, the flight took almost two hours less thanks to tailwinds — winds that blow in the same direction as an aircraft and thus make it go faster.
“The Earth rotates from west to east, and winds flow in that direction too. Flying west means facing strong headwinds (that decreases an aircraft’s actual ground speed), and flying east means getting strong tailwinds, which does the opposite,” said a senior AI official. “While taking the (western) Atlantic route to SFO, we usually face headwinds of 24kmph. This means that if our aircraft is doing 800kmph, its actual ground speed is 776kmph. Taking the (eastern) Pacific route will mean getting tailwinds of 138kmph, which make the aircraft have an actual ground speed of 938kmph,” the official added.
At 13,900km, the Atlantic route of AI’s Delhi-SFO nonstop flight made it the world’s second-longest after Emirates’ Dubai-Auckland (14,120km). Now, AI’s Pacific route will remain the world’s longest nonstop for two years, till Singapore Airlines launches the mother of all direct flights — Singapore-New York — that will cover 16,500km in 19 hours.
The four pilots, captains Rajneesh Sharma, Gautam Verma, MA Khan and SM Palekar, and the 10 cabin crew members who operated the first Delhi-SFO flight over the Pacific are ecstatic at setting this record.
“The aircraft took off from Delhi at 4am on Sunday (October 16) morning. We were in that date till Japan. After that, we crossed the international date line and were in October 15. By the time we landed in San Francisco, it was 6.30am on October 16 (local time in SFO),” said one of the pilots.
The AI Delhi-SFO-Delhi flight now does a round trip of the world as it flies back to India over the Atlantic to get tailwinds on both the outbound and inbound flights.
The Boeing-777 200 long range used by AI on this route, on an average, burns 9,600 litres of fuel for each hour of flying. A shorter flying time on the Delhi-SFO route — from an hour in summer to three hours (in winter) — would mean huge fuel savings for the airline.