Whenever you get on a plane, you may notice that the plane never flies over the poles, even if it would be quicker, or a more direct route. A commercial airliner never flies over the north or South Pole, why?
There are many reasons why planes don’t fly over Antarctica, the most obvious one being that Antarctica simply is not a very hospitable or even safe place to fly over, there are many concerns that make Antarctica simply a no-fly zone.
The first reason is due to the weather conditions. Antarctica simply does not have a very welcoming climate for humans in any shape or form. It has some of the coldest and most extreme temperatures on our planet.
Temperatures in Antarctica can reach -89.6 Celsius, which is very unpleasant, the average winter in Antarctica is around -40 Celsius (your freezer is about -18 for reference).
An aircraft should not fly in these sorts of conditions. While deicing is already an essential for planes, however this doesn’t even begin to tie into the amount of onboard electrical heating a plane needs to keep the wings form.
There is also a substantial lack of visibility. Pilots need to be able to maintain contact with the ground at all times, so they know where they are going and are still level. There is so much solid white tundras in Antarctica that can force pilots to lose track of their position. Not to mention the high chance of running into storms as Antarctic storms can be potentially deadly.
There is also next to no infrastructure in Antarctica, there are no towers or Airports nearby that will help a plane, take off, land or even navigate. This can make flying over Antarctica like flying over the sea, although flying over an ocean typically has much better visibility and more direct flight paths.
Then there are the navigation concerns stemmed from the magnetic fields. This makes it difficult for aircraft to navigate these areas because polar regions interfere with magnetic navigational equipment.
Due to the isolation of this climate, communication systems with flight controllers can be difficult and this communication is essential for pilots to ensure they are going the right way and are to avoid storms and hazards.
Simply put, flying over Antarctica just is not safe.
Why do planes not fly over the North Pole?
While Antarctica is a no-fly zone due to extreme weather conditions, navigational problems, visibility and more, the Arctic is also generally off-list when it comes to flying. However, it is not quite as restrictive.
Although Polar flights are rare and not recommended, they have been conducted in the past anyway. This means that there are models for flight paths over the region which flight controllers can look to when they are planning or guiding an arctic flight.
The Antarctic does not have anything like this, and certainly nothing as extensive, but the Arctic does. So, while it is still not recommended, Arctic flights are more common than Antarctic flights.
Planes can fly over the Arctic, however they do not tend to fly over the pole, primarily due to the pole having the ability to interfere with navigation systems which can cause technological problems.
When a plane does fly over the arctic the pilot will often descend to an altitude of around 10,000 feet, this is done to prevent fuel from freezing which can result in some astounding views, up-close and personal with a part of the world that otherwise, many people never ever see otherwise.
Has anyone flown over Antarctica?
There is a history of the first recorded flight over the South Pole. This person was American Explorer Richard Byrd and his three companions who made the first ever flight over the South Pole. They flew from their base on the Ross Ice Shelf to the pole and back in 18 hours and 41 minutes.
Richard Byrd was a previous pilot in the first world war, and he had previously been deployed to Greenland in 1924 to help with exploration of the Arctic regions by air. This is what made him so successful in his flight over the antarctic as he had experience with flying over glaciers and sea ice.
Even as an experienced pilot who has faced glaciers before, he still had struggles with the South Pole. Navigational errors due to magnetic compasses not working near the pole, and the most challenging part which was when the plane struggled to gain enough altitude to fly safely over the Polar Plateau. However, they did it and returned home.
They had to compensate for navigational errors and difficulties, but the flight was a success. It is possible to fly over Antarctica, it is just not advised due to the dangers that it poses.