Bengaluru: Air India is all set to script history when an all-woman pilot crew will touchdown at the Kempegowda Internal Airport (KIA) here during the early hours of Monday, January 11.
This will be a non-stop flight from San Francisco. Depending upon the wind speed on that particular day, the total flight time on this route would wary in excess of 17 hours.
An Air India communication puts the direct distance between Bengaluru and San Francisco is 13,993 km approximately.
According to Air India, the commencement of this historic inaugural flight is the beginning of its efforts to spread its wings further in the United States.
“This will be the first-ever non-stop service between Bengaluru and San Francisco, connecting the world’s two tech hubs - the original Silicon Valley and the Silicon Valley of India. The first flight AI 176 from San Francisco to Bengaluru will operate on Saturdays and Tuesdays,” an official said.
This will be the longest commercial flight in the world to be operated by Air India or any other airline in India.
The flight will leave from San Francisco at 2030 hrs (local time) on January 9 and will arrive at Bengaluru at 0345 hrs (IST) on January 11.
The official said that the lowest fare for a return flight BLR-SFO-BLR will be Rs 71,210 and SFO-BLR-SFO will be Rs 47,595.
“These are all-inclusive rates for two-way,” the official told Onmanorama.
The all-women cockpit crew include Capt Zoya Aggarwal (P1), Capt Papagari Thanmai (P1), Capt Akansha Sonaware (P2) and Capt Shivani Manhas (P2).
Air India says Capt Zoya is an accomplished pilot with a flying experience of more than 8000 hours to her credit. On B-777 aircraft alone, she has a command experience of more than 10 years, including 2500-plus hours of flying.
Capt Nivedita Bhasin, Executive Director (Flight Safety), Air India, is also traveling on this flight.
“And I’m here today. For a very special flight. San Francisco & Bengaluru -- two giant IT hubs to be only 17 hours away. Our longest flight on the network coming up. #NewBeginnings, #NewHope,” Capt Nivedita, one of the top-rated pilots in the world, tweeted.
She hit headlines in 1989 when she became she commanded Boeing 737 at the age of 26, thereby becoming the youngest woman in the world to captain a jet plane. She also has to her credit of becoming India’s first woman check-pilot on Airbus A-300, in 1990.
Over the North Pole
Speaking to Onmanorma from San Francisco, Capt Nivedita said that the flight has several significances attached to it.
“This will be the second polar flight for Air India. We did the first polar flight on August 15 2019 to validate the flight, risk analysis, readiness and to see operational challenges. Flying over the North Pole is a great experience,” Capt Nivedita said.
She said close to seven tonnes of fuel will be saved during the flight, thereby reducing the carbon footprint by many folds.
Air India said the passengers will benefit from the reduced flight duration and with less fuel consumption, the environment will have less carbon impact.
“There’s lots of excitement for the crew ahead of this flight. At the same time, we also have to look at several safety aspects and address all areas of concerns taking into account the distance we cover and the region we are flying in,” said Capt Nivedita.
During the 2019 maiden polar flight, Air India flew its Boeing 777 aircraft over the North Pole thereby becoming the first Indian airline to operate commercial flights overflying the polar region.
“We have been flying all-women pilot crew since 1985. This time, it will be a great sight to see the Northern Lights -- Aurora Borealis,” she said.
The Boeing 777-200LR aircraft has a seating capacity of 238 seats including eight First Class, 35 Business Class, 195 Economy class configuration besides four cockpits and 12 cabin crew.
Air India owns three Boeing 777-200LRs which has a wingspan of 112.6 feet and can cruise at a speed of 1037.232 kmph at a maximum altitude of 43,100 feet.
It has a maximum take-off weight of 347.5 tonnes with an overall length of 209 feet, a height of 61.8 feet and a cabin width of 19.1 feet. The total wing area stands at 4605 sq feet.
“The route for this flight will be the safest, fastest and most economical. It will be an around-the-world flight and based on the wind speed and other logistical parameters, the polar route may be chosen as the flight path, which will result in savings on flying time, fuel consumption and curbing carbon footprint,” says an Air India release.
The cities are diametrically at the opposite ends of the world with a time zone change of approx.13.5 hours.
Excitement in Air
“We are all excited about this flight and there was enough enthusiasm all around when we were planning this flight. An all-women cockpit crew for such a long-haul flight means we are setting new benchmarks in civil aviation. We have the highest women-employee ratio for an airline in the world,” an Air India official told Onmanorma.
This will be the first-ever non-stop route between the West Coast of USA and South India, which will also be accessible to cities in neighboring states via short domestic flights.
At present, Air India operates non-stop flights from Delhi to New York, Newark, Washington DC, San Francisco and Chicago and from Mumbai to Newark and New York.
Plans are afoot now to begin Air India’s first-ever non-stop service between Hyderabad and Chicago from January 15 this year.
At KIA in Bengaluru, preparations are in place to welcome the all-women-cockpit-crew flight ahead of the touch down on Monday morning.
“We are happy to be part of this significant moment. We have made some special arrangements to welcome the crew and passengers. Some fanfare to receive them, keeping all pandemic protocols in mind,” an airport spokesperson told Onmanorama.
Owing to environmental reasons, KIA has done away with the traditional water cannon salute being given to airlines, whenever a first flight makes a touch down at the airport.
(The writer is an independent aerospace and defence journalist, who blogs at Tarmak007 and tweets @writetake.)