It is technically possible to fly directly over the North Pole, and there have been verified flights over the North Pole, too.
There are even FAA regulations for flying over the North Pole for pilots who want to fly over the region.
Yet, flying directly over the North Pole is extremely difficult and uncommon due to the dangerous climate conditions in the North Pole, and the region’s complete lack of infrastructure.
Plane’s depend on infrastructure like air control towers and airports, which the North Pole lack.
Having said that, commercial flights between Asian cities and North American cities that involve flying over part of the North Pole are relatively common.
Flights over the South Pole and Antarctica are also relatively uncommon and dangerous for the same reasons.
Table of Contents
- 1 3 Reasons Why Planes Fly Over the North Pole
- 2 6 Reasons Why Planes Don’t Fly Directly Over the North Pole
- 3 Requirements to Fly Over the North Pole
- 4 The First Flight Over the North Pole Was in 1926
- 5 Planes Have Flown Over the South Pole
- 6 Planes Have Flown Over Antarctica
3 Reasons Why Planes Fly Over the North Pole
1. To Reduce Flight Hours
Flying over the North Pole is known as the geodesic, or great circle route, and it is the shortest route between two far away locations, like Oslo in Norway to Toronto in Canada.
Hence, flying over the North Pole reduces flight time.
2. To Reduce Flight Distance
Geodesic navigation reduces the flight distance because the distance is objectively shorter in real life (such as when looking at and comparing distances when looking at a 3D map rather than a 2D map).
So, flying geodesic flights result in shorter travel distances than if a flight went over the Atlantic Ocean.
3. To Reduce Fuel Costs
The reduced flight time and flight distance from geodesic navigation also results in less fuel being used, which reduces fuel costs.
6 Reasons Why Planes Don’t Fly Directly Over the North Pole
1. Ice Can Form on the Plane’s Wings
Ice forms on a plane’s wings in extreme temperatures when small cloud droplets freeze over the plane’s wings.
The ice affects the plane’s airflow, and it can reduce lift or potentially cause aerodynamic stall.
2. Visibility issues
The North Pole experiences very cold and unstable weather, which reduces visibility because of the absence of landmarks on the continent and ice formation on windshields.
Ice formation on the windshield can cause temporary blindness that impairs navigation.
3. Solar Radiation
Radiation at the North Pole is between two to four times greater than at the equator.
Radiation exposure in the North Pole also increases further at higher altitudes.
The result is that flight attendants flying over the North Pole experience as much radiation per trip as if they had their chest x-rayed.
4. History of Fatal Crashes
The hazardous conditions over the North Pole have resulted in multiple previous fatal crashes, which were compounded due to the difficulties of launching rescue attempts in the region.
5. Radio Communication Issues
Aircraft pilots often experience radio communication issues due to interference caused by solar activity on the North Pole.
6. Logistical Issues
The North Pole lacks infrastructure, like roads, runways, and housing. So, it’s not possible to land, refuel, and conduct repairs on the North Pole.
Requirements to Fly Over the North Pole
To fly over the North Pole, you need to satisfy several FAA requirements, ranging from mandatory equipment to navigational requirements.
- An aircraft must carry at least two cold weather anti-exposure suits.
- A pilot is also required to have route-specific weather training to ensure that they’re prepared to fly their intended route.
- An aircraft must contain enhanced radio and other communication tools to ensure communication with air control towers during all weather conditions.
- Lastly, a pilot is required to produce contingency strategies to reroute their aircraft to nearby airports during emergencies.
The First Flight Over the North Pole Was in 1926
The first flight over the North Pole is disputed by some authorities.
Richard E. Byrd and Floyd Bennett are said to have flown over the North Pole in a Fokker F-VII in 1926, but this claim is challenged.
The first verified flight over the North Pole was completed on the 12th of May 1926 by Ronald Amundsen and Umberto Nobile.
Ronald Amundsen flew over the North Pole as leader of an aerial expedition to the polar ice caps between the European and North American continents.
Umberto Nobile was the airship’s designer and pilot.
Their flight was completed on a 106 meters long and 26 meters tall airship filled with hydrogen.
The entire trip took three days to complete.
Planes Have Flown Over the South Pole
It’s technically possible to fly over the South Pole, and many flights have been completed over it.
Yet, the South Pole is extremely difficult to fly over due to the dangerous icy conditions and mountainous terrain.
So, flying over the South Pole is not desirable given the harsh conditions of the region.
Planes Have Flown Over Antarctica
Technically, yes, you can fly over Antarctica, but the difficult conditions of the icy continent make it difficult for most flights.
Since Antarctica has no infrastructure, it’s not possible to land planes there during emergencies, so it’s undesirable to fly over it.
There are also other major reasons why flying over Antarctica is dangerous:
- Weather and Climate Conditions
Antarctica has a very hostile climate that makes it unsuitable for human activities, including flight.
Even people who work in Antarctica undergo months of intensive training for adjusting to the icy continent’s climate.
Despite training and equipment, no permanent human settlement or infrastructure is possible on Antarctica, so aircraft mostly fly over Antarctica instead of landing there.
- Poor Visibility
Antarctica has generally poor visibility from a plane due to the dangerous weather, especially the frequent snowstorms.
So, pilots flying over Antarctica have to rely on constant contact with air traffic controllers to guide them.
Despite air traffic controller guidance, the suddenly changing weather of Antarctica still makes flying over the continent very difficult.
- No Infrastructure
Planes often depend on towers, airports, and other on-the-ground infrastructure to safely take off, land, and navigate during flights.
All this infrastructure is completely absent from Antarctica, so flying over Antarctica is similar to flying over the open Ocean, which is also dangerous.
If a plane lands in Antarctica, it will have no access to assistance or infrastructure, which makes flying especially risky.
- Navigation Problems
Apart from the snowstorms that cause visibility problems, Antarctica’s strong magnetic fields also affect navigational equipment.
These strong magnetic fields surround polar regions and impact the magnetic navigational equipment onboard of planes, making navigation difficult.
Compounding these issues, easily contacting air traffic controllers for help over Antarctica is also difficult, so navigating over the region is particularly challenging.
The most popular way to fly to Antarctica is the Fly-Cruise option, which is popular with tourists.
In conclusion, yes it is possible to fly over the North Pole, but it’s uncommon because of how dangerous it is – at least if talking about flying directly over the North Pole.
The North Pole doesn’t haven any permanent infrastructure, which airplanes need to safely fly, take off, and land.
There have been successful flights to the North Pole in the past, but you must fulfill FAA requirements to safely fly over the North Pole.
These same challenges are also present when flying over the South Pole and Antarctica.
Ella Dunham, a Freelance Travel Journalist and Marketing Manager, boasts an impressive career spanning eight years in the travel and tourism sectors.
Honored as one of "30 Under 30" by TTG Media (the world’s very first weekly travel trade newspaper), a "Tour Operator Travel Guru" and "Legend Award" winner, Ella is also a Fellow of the Institute of Travel, a Member of the Association of Women Travel Executives, has completed over 250 travel modules, and hosts travel-focused segments on national radio shows where she provides insights on travel regulations and destinations.
Ella has visited over 40 countries (with 10 more planned this year).