First Antarctic flight for the Airbus A319

After a 5.2 hour flight from Christchurch, New Zealand, the Australian Antarctic Division’s Airbus A319 touched down in Antarctica – at America’s McMurdo base – for the first time, on the 19 November 2007.

On arrival, passengers and crew were greeted by the US National Science Foundation representative at McMurdo, Mr Mike Scheuermann, and representatives of the New Zealand Antarctic Program, from Scott Base. In keeping with the tradition of not arriving empty handed on a first flight to Antarctica, the A319 delivered 1500 kilograms of mail and parcels to McMurdo.

While in Antarctica the aircraft undertook further take offs and landings to give the aircrew additional experience of the local conditions, before departing on the 4.5 hour return flight to New Zealand. On 22 November the A319 flew to McMurdo again, and returned directly to Hobart. Both flights were conducted without incident and demonstrated the capability of a modern, commercial, twin engine jet to provide an effective air service to Antarctica. All objectives of the flights were met and the performance and handling of the aircraft on the McMurdo ice runway exceeded the expectations of the aircrew.

The A319 flight to McMurdo was planned 12 months in advance and was an important part of preparations leading up to the first landing on Australia’s new Wilkins Runway, expected in December. The ability of the aircraft to conduct two return trips to Antarctica in a period of four days highlights the flexibility and efficiency that intercontinental air travel can provide to operations in Antarctica.

Many thanks must go to Skytraders, the US Antarctic Program and Antarctic New Zealand, for the conduct and support of such a significant operation. Congratulations must also go the aircrew, consisting of Captain Garry Studd and Captain Rex Booth of Skytraders and Captain John Quinnell of Airbus. Lt Colonel Jim McGann, the US Airforce Antarctic C-17 Commander, also participated as an observer on the flight.

CHARLTON CLARK, Manager, Antarctic Airlink Project