Red helicopter on helipad on the ship deck, with the deck officer standing in front of two expeditioners waiting to board
Heli operations on the Aurora Australis (Photo: Rich Youd)
Red helicopter on black sandy beach with snow-covered mountain in backgroundHelicopter landing A new helicopter hovers low over rock and snow in AntarcticaAS350B3 helicopter hovers over the snow dusted ground

The AAD currently uses AS 350B3, 'Squirrel', single-engine helicopters. The Squirrels are capable of carrying five passengers and can fly up to 600-650 kilometres.

Tasks include ice reconnaissance (to assist ship navigation through pack ice), ship to shore carriage of expeditioners and cargo, ship based support of marine science and field based operations in Antarctica as well as Heard and Macquarie Island.

These helicopters are typically based at Davis during the period December to February supporting biological, glaciological, geological and operational programmes. They also play a vital role in the support of the Basler and Twin-Otter fixed wing aircraft providing the only link between Davis and the Davis Plateau ski landing area, 20 nautical miles away.

When the Squirrels are used for resupplying stations from the ship to shore, the voyage leader, station leader and the pilots work together to develop a helicopter schedule. This is done on the basis of station logistics and requirements and to comply with strict environmental guidelines.

Helicopters are also used for observation flights of animal populations and other aerial survey work. Unless authorised in a permit, it is an offence to use an aircraft in a way that disturbs a concentration of birds or seals (a concentration is defined in the relevant legislation as being twenty or more animals) or to land a helicopter in a protected area.

In recent years helicopters, of which there are two or sometimes three based at Davis, have operated in the Vestfold Hills, Larsemann Hills, Amery Ice Shelf and Prince Charles Mountains deploying, supporting and retrieving field parties.