Aloha Hawaii! ‘Santa’s short cut’ to open Scotland to other side of world

AIR passengers could soon be able to fly non-stop between Scotland and destinations on the other side of the world, due to a shake-up of global aviation rules.

The move to allow carriers operating twin-engined planes to take a “short cut” over the North Pole for the first time could see long-haul flight times reduced by as much as half.

First Minister Alex Salmond said yesterday the changes were an opportunity to “open up” more air routes from Scotland.

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Under the new rules, planes from Scotland would be able to fly non-stop over the North Pole – dubbed “Santa’s short cut” – to destinations such as Hawaii, Alaska or French Polynesia.

Mr Salmond said that government agencies Transport Scotland and VisitScotland would be “seeking clarity” on the changes, which he claimed could save millions of pounds in fuel costs and lead to cheaper and cleaner flights.

The news comes ahead of talks in the new year between Chinese airline chiefs and Scottish Government officials about the possibility of direct flights between Scotland and China.

Aviation regulators have agreed to relax the rules about how close twin-engined jets must keep to what are called “diversion airports”.

The previous rule said the nearest suitable place for an aircraft to land had to be no more than three hours away, but that has now been extended to five and a half hours.

Twin-engined aircraft such as Boeing’s 777 and 787 Dreamliner will now be able to fly almost anywhere in the world.

The shake-up could create the possibility of flights from Scotland straight across the North Pole to Pacific islands that are currently off the route map.

Mr Salmond said the easing of the regulations had increased the chances to develop direct air links between Scotland and far-flung destinations.

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He said: “Coming hard on the heels of recent positive talks in China and the Middle East about exploring new air links, progress on ‘Santa’s short cut’ could be a welcome Christmas gift to our tourism, business and aviation sectors.

“While Transport Scotland are already seeking more detail, it could potentially save millions of pounds in fuel costs, opening up new routes and crucially reducing damage to the environment.

“We are already exploring the expansion of our international air connections with key global markets and continue to work very closely with the Chinese and other governments and airlines to develop direct air links.

“I am delighted that a senior Chinese aviation delegation will travel to Scotland early in the new year to take forward these plans.”

Sir Richard Branson, president of Virgin Atlantic, said the revised aviation regulations opened up “a whole new world” for direct flights to “exciting and exotic places” such as Honolulu and Fiji.

Larry Loftis, general manager of Boeing’s 777 programme, said: “This is the logical continuation of the Boeing philosophy of point-to-point service. Passengers want to minimise their overall travel time.”

The first airline to take advantage of the new “extended operations” option is Air New Zealand, which operates flights across the Pacific.

Captain David Morgan, chief pilot for Air New Zealand, said: “What this means is that the aeroplane is able to fly a straighter route between pairs of cities, and that’s good for the environment.

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“Less fuel is burned and less carbon dioxide is emitted into the atmosphere. It’s also good for customers, because flights are potentially shorter and passengers could arrive sooner at their destinations.”