A new air service using an Airbus Corporate Jetliner (ACJ) is to trim Australia-to-Antarctica journey times from 10 days to just four hours for scientists and explorers, and will provide a faster response in the event of emergencies.
The Australian Government Antarctic Division has chosen an ACJ (which is based on the A319) for its new Antarctic Air Service, and the promise of dramatically reduced travelling times will come as great news for people working on the frozen continent.
Researchers, scientists, technicians and field assistants currently sail from Australia to Antarctica by ship, a journey that takes 10 days. Senator Ian Campbell, Australia's Minister for the Environment and Heritage, said "using the ACJ will modernise our support for Australia's Antarctic programme and allow researchers to travel between the two continents much quicker."
"The Airbus will mean expeditioners can get there quickly and spend more time on the ice for research," he added.
Ahead of the aircraft's introduction on regular flights, construction work on the new Wilkins Runway began in December 2005, and has continued throughout the 2006-07 season. It is located 70 km. inland from Australia's Casey station - one of the country's four permanent Antarctic research facilities. The ACJ's inaugural flight to this blue ice runway, which is topped with a bonded snow pavement, is scheduled for February. It will be the first time an Airbus aircraft has landed on such a runway.
The service is expected to be fully operational for the summer months of the 2007-08 Antarctic season. "We estimate 10 to 20 flights of the Air Service will be conducted each summer once the system is operational," Senator Campbell said.
The ACJ will be leased and operated by Australian company Skytraders for an initial period of five years beginning in January 2007.
The ACJ's 6,500 naut. mi. (12,000 km.) range means it can fly from its operating base in Hobart, Tasmania to Wilkins Runway and back again without refuelling. Depending on programme requirements, the aircraft can be configured to carry passengers or accommodate mixed passenger/cargo payloads.
Operations initially will begin with 19 passengers, with a maximum capacity of 40.