Why do we fly all the way around the world?


The distance between my home in Bellingham, WA and the Northeast Science Station in Cherskiy is about 3,000 miles. That’s a long way but astute readers will notice that the field course participants end up traveling a long, long way to get to Cherskiy. For folks coming from Bellingham:

map copy

(The map is a schematic – the pilots are aware the Earth is round – orthodromic distance and all that.)

Bellingham to Seattle: 93 mi, 39min
Seattle to Chicago: 1723 mi, 3hr 59mn
Chicago to Moscow:
4983 mi, 10hr 10mn
Moscow to
Novosibirsk: ~1700 mi, ~4hr
Novosibirsk to Yakutsk:
~1700 mi, ~4hr
Yakutsk to Cherskiy: ~1000 mi, ~3hr

That means we’ll fly about 11,200 miles (1.8E4km)  and be in the air for about 26 hours. Fortunately, we break it up over about four days of travel.

Why do we fly so far? The simple answer is that we are adhering to Title 49 of the United States Code, Subtitle VII, Part A, subpart I, Chapter 401, 40118. This is better known at the Fly America Act. Look here. The only way to fly to Russia on a US flag carrier is through Moscow – the only problem with that is that Moscow is a staggering 8 time zones from Cherskiy. We could likely convince somebody at NSF that this arrangement is a bad idea and we should fly another way – but alas there aren’t a lot of other good ways to do this (Flying from Seattle to Seoul to Vladivostok to Yakutsk to Cherskiy is one – but in the end you don’t save much time). There used to be an Alaska Airlines flight to Provideniya but it’s been defunct for years – alas. There is a chance that in future years the Polaris Project might be able to fly via Provideniya on a charter. Look here.

In the meantime, we’ll enjoy the look on people’s faces when we explain the 19 time zones and 11 thousands miles we travel – one way.


5 Responses to “Why do we fly all the way around the world?”

  1. June 29, 2009 at 6:22 am, Ted Bunn said:

    According to the Wikipedia page, there are a couple of exceptions to the law:

    Travel to and from the US. Use of a non-US carrier is permissible if:

    * The airport abroad is the origin or destination airport, and use of a US carrier would extend the total travel time 24 hours or more than would travel by non-US carrier; or
    * The airport abroad is an interchange point, and use of a US Carrier would require the traveller to wait six (6) hours or more to make connection or would extend the total travel time six (6) hours or more than would travel by non-US carrier.

    If you can find a decent alternative route, it looks to me like these would cover you.

  2. June 30, 2009 at 7:09 am, andy said:

    The lack of good alternative route is the issue. Get on it Ted and play travel agent!

  3. October 19, 2009 at 9:54 am, N said:

    So the problem isn’t the Fly America Act, but simply that there are no convenient short flights over the Bering Strait. Although that makes for a less flashy explanation than blaming some unpopular government regulations.

    • October 29, 2009 at 8:39 am, andy said:

      Yes and no. Getting 20 people to north central Asia is not trivial. We need to get bulk tickets that line up flights from Yakutsk to Cherskiy and to fly over the Pacific to Yakutsk would mean going through Vladivostok. Doing this would add at least one more airline to the mix (likely flying through Seoul on Korea Air) and create extra layover days. So the combination of getting a pass on the reg to fly on Korea Air, adding a foreign layover, and extra travel days make it non tenable. What we really need is a flight from AK. However, if you’d like to be the travel agent we’d be much obliged.

  4. March 23, 2010 at 9:53 pm, BD said:

    It looks like Bering Air would be happy to charter a plane for 19 people to fly from Nome to Provideniya, all they need is evidence of your visa. You could fly Bellingham-Seattle-Anchorage-Nome on Alaska Airlines and charter the last leg.

    The difference on a Great Circle Map is striking.