An Airbus Corporate Jetliner (ACJ) made history today by performing the first ever passenger flight linking the Australian and Antarctic continents, landing on a new ice runway located some 70 km. from the Casey research station.
This milestone round-trip journey from Australia's southern city of Hobart was performed overnight, with a flight time in each direction of approximately 4.5 hours. The A319 landed on the 4,000-metre-long Wilkins Runway - a blue-ice landing strip topped with compacted snow - where it spent several hours before departing for the return leg to Hobart.
Prior to today's start-up of the passenger service - known as Airlink - researchers and support personnel had to spend some 10 days at sea in order to travel from Australia to the Antarctic. The new ACJ service not only significantly reduces travel time, it opens opportunities for research personnel who may not have been able to take the long sea cruise to reach the Antarctic.
The Airlink ACJ is operated by Skytraders Pty. Ltd. on behalf of the Australian government's Antarctic Division. Skytraders' selection of the ACJ was based on the aircraft's operational capabilities, including its long range, excellent maneuverability and cabin flexibility for both passenger and combi (passenger/freight) configurations. When not in use for the Antarctic service, the ACJ will be available for general charter.
The new runway used for the ACJ-based passenger services is named after Antarctic pioneer Sir Hubert Wilkins, who made the first flight over the ice cap 79 years ago. It was constructed during two summers by Australian Antarctic Division staff, which used laser-leveling technology to prepare the ice for passenger jet operations.