Wilkins Aerodrome

A319 on the ice at Wilkins runway near Casey
A319 on the ice at Wilkins runway near Casey (Photo: Glenn Jacobson)
A sun dog, which is a meteorological phenomenon light formation at Wilkins runway.Machinery out on the runway blowing snow off it.A large proof roller flattens the icy runwayOrange building in the sun with flag flying alongside.A landscape view of Wilkins Runway on an overcast dayGreen and red sheds made out of shipping containers on the ice at Wilkins Runway.Photo looking down the runway with the snow grooming machine driving away as it is working the ice surface on a blue sky sunny day.

Wilkins Aerodrome is located approximately 70km southeast of Casey research station and serves as the Antarctic terminal for the intercontinental air service.

Situated in an area of Antarctica known as Wilkes’ Land, the aerodrome has been sited 700 metres above sea level to minimise the likelihood of melt, as the coast is relatively warm by Antarctic standards during the summer months.

Demonstration flights to Wilkins Aerodrome occurred during the austral summer of 2006–07 and regular passenger flights commenced during the 2007–08 season. The facility operates between October and March each year. It closes for around six weeks at the height of summer, due to warmer temperatures causing sub-surface melt.

Wilkins is named after the legendary patron and pioneer of early Antarctic aviation, Sir Hubert Wilkins.

Aerodrome facts

  • Location: 66°41′27″ S, 111°31′35″ E
  • Dimensions: 3500m × 100m
  • Visual aids: PAPI, and end lighting threshold, lead in and edge markers
  • Distance from Casey: 70km
  • Elevation: 720–780m ASL
  • Center line slope: 1.58%
  • Cross slope: <0.1%
  • Glacial movement: 12m/year to the southwest
  • Ice thickness: approx 500m
  • Mean temperature: −14°C

Facilities

Wilkins Aerodrome operates as a certified aerodrome in accordance with Civil Aviation Safety Authority regulations.

Due to the dynamic nature of the runway, a series of tests are conducted on the pavement immediately prior to any use by aircraft to ensure that prescribed hardness and friction requirements are met.

Infrastructure at Wilkins includes:

  • Transit facilities
  • Cold and warm storage
  • Basic emergency response facilities, including medical
  • Airfield markers
  • Navigation and aircraft approach equipment
  • Power generation equipment
  • Basic fire fighting equipment
  • Shelters for:
    • aircraft communications site office
    • medical services
    • meteorological services
    • living and emergency accommodation
    • light workshop
    • storage facilities
  • Vehicle and sled parking areas
  • Refuelling equipment
  • Fuel storage for vehicle and airfield operations

Construction

The Wilkins site is approximately 70% exposed ice and 30% snow cover that is less than one metre deep. The foundation of the runway is natural glacial ice, rolled with proof rollers to ensure that the surface ice has suitable bearing strength and integrity to support the aircraft. The runway surface is tillered by a snowgroomer to manufacture higher friction levels prior to each flight of a wheeled aircraft.

Living at Wilkins

Up to eight expeditioners live and work at Wilkins Aerodrome during the flying season.

Extreme weather conditions at the site can make it difficult for a daily routine to become established. There are periods of blizzard, with high wind and blowing snow, when little work can be completed. These are punctuated with windows of fine weather when most outdoors work is undertaken. During fine weather, long work days can be expected. These can be up to 12 hours.

Living in this isolated environment, all team members must contribute to a range of additional duties that are essential to maintaining the Wilkins accommodation and facilities.