Making Australian Aviation History

Federal Environment Minister, Peter Garrett, in Antarctica after the first passenger flight
Federal Environment Minister, Peter Garrett, in Antarctica after the first passenger flight (Photo: Torsten Blackwood, AFP)
The Wilkins Runway crew unveil a plaque commemorating the opening of the runway
Australia made aviation history this year with the landing of its first passenger aircraft, the Airbus A319, on Wilkins Runway in Antarctica. The successful introduction of the air service to Antarctica is the culmination of several years work and brings to fruition a concept first mooted over 40 years ago.

Federal Environment Minister, Peter Garrett, joined Australian Antarctic Division staff, scientists and invited media on the first passenger flight between Australia and Antarctica on 10th January. Four and a half hours after departing Hobart the aircraft touched down on Wilkins Runway, about 70 km from Casey.

The Minister was greeted on his arrival by the Wilkins Runway Supervisor, Mr Matt Filipowski and Casey Station
Leader, Dr Jeremy Smith. Whilst on the ground, the Minister
inspected the runway facilities before taking a flight on a
C212 around the Casey region.

Two weeks later the Governor General, His Excellency Major General Michael Jeffery, officially opened Wilkins Runway. He spoke to the Wilkins crew via a telephone link from the Antarctic Division headquarters, near Hobart, after his visit to the runway was cancelled due to bad weather.

'It is fitting that that the runway is named after Sir George Hubert Wilkins, one of the great pioneers of polar exploration and aviation,' Major General Jeffery said.

'He encountered many of the same perils that face our Antarctic aviators today – ferocious wind, ice and snow blizzards and absolute isolation.'

He said the ease and speed with which scientists could now reach Antarctica would have major benefits, particularly in the collection of ice cores near Law Dome (providing climate information for the past 90 000 years) and an ambitious international effort to recover a 1 million year old ice core in the Aurora Basin.

'While this project may take several years and require international collaboration, the scientific results will be enormously significant, and will be expedited through the air link and this runway,' Major General Jeffery said.

The aircraft undertook 10 proving and passenger flights to Antarctica during the summer, including two flights to McMurdo station. Several tonnes of cargo and equipment were also flown to Wilkins during the summer, supporting a range of projects. Up to 15 flights are planned for 2008-09.

Information Services, AAD