Australia's proposed Antarctic aerodrome open for comment

Australia's proposed Antarctic aerodrome open for comment

Video transcript

The initial proposal for a new aerodrome in Antarctica is now publicly available.

Kim Ellis, Director, Australian Antarctic Division In 2016, the Australian Government launched a strategy and action plan for Antarctica and this sets a new era and a new standard for Australia’s engagement in Antarctica.

Kim Ellis “It also foreshadowed the work to develop a paved aerodrome at Davis Station.”

The proposed aerodrome will enable more ambitious science

It will provide year-round access and improve emergency response.

Kim Ellis “It will transform the science we’re able to deliver in Antarctica. At the moment we’re constrained by a very narrow summer window to get our logistics in and out and our scientists work is limited by that operational window.”

The proposal includes a 2,700m long runway, aircraft apron, and buildings.

Scientists have been on the ground for several years to build an understanding of the site.

The project will have a high level of environmental scrutiny, nationally and internationally.

Kim Ellis “There will undoubtedly be some environmental impacts and the process we’re going through now will ensure those impacts are minimised and mitigated where possible through alternative construction methodology or changes to the design and operation of the airfield.”

Kim Ellis “Over the 60 years that Australia has been involved in Antarctica we’ve set a very high benchmark for all our activities and operations and this project is no exception.”

[end transcript]

Landscape of rocky hills
The site of the proposed aerodrome in the Vestfold Hills near Davis research station (Photo: Andrew Garner)
Two expeditioners using surveying equipmentTwo scientists on the rocky shores of a lakeTwo scientists on the ice fjordScientist writing notes while kneeling on rocksAerial view of Davis research stationExpeditioners walking from two planes at Wilkins AerodromeGraphic of the site of the proposed Davis aerodromeGraphic of the proposed Davis aerodrome

A proposal for a new aerodrome, with a paved runway, near Australia’s Davis research station is open for public comment.

Details of the plan for a 2,700 metre long runway in the Vestfold Hills are contained in the submission under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (1999) (EPBC Act).

Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) Director, Kim Ellis said the submission will help determine the assessment requirements for the project.

“I encourage anyone interested in the project to look at the submission and participate in this consultation process,” Mr Ellis said.

“If the project is approved to go ahead, the construction and operation of the aerodrome will have some unavoidable environmental impacts."

“Australia has a long-standing track record of environmental stewardship in Antarctica and we are committed to minimising and mitigating impacts where possible.”

The Australian Government’s 2016 Australian Antarctic Strategy and 20 Year Action Plan committed to a range of activities to support Australia’s national Antarctic interests including investigating year-round air access between Australia and Antarctica.

In May 2018, the Government announced its intention to construct a 2,700m paved runway near Davis research station, subject to environmental approvals.

“The proposed aerodrome will deliver a significant capability boost to the Australian Antarctic Program and revolutionise scientific research on the continent,” Mr Ellis said.

“An aviation capability that regularly and efficiently delivers scientists and instruments to Antarctica would offer unprecedented opportunities.

“We will be able to better monitor and understand the Antarctic environment, improve accuracy of forecast models, sea level rise predictions and climate change impacts.”

The selection of a proposed site in the Vestfold Hills has been based on construction feasibility, environmental considerations and proximity to key areas of scientific interest.

“For several years now scientists and technical experts have been on the ground in Antarctica building our understanding of the site and the potential impacts of construction and operation.”

The AAD will address environmental impacts and develop mitigation measures in line with legislated requirements.

The project is also being assessed internationally, under the Antarctic Treaty (Environment Protection) Act (1980) (ATEP Act).

There will be further opportunities for public comment as part of both environmental assessment processes.

“This project will be given a high level of environmental scrutiny, nationally and internationally, and the Division intends to set the benchmark for environmental impact assessments and management in Antarctica.”

“The Australian Government is delivering a modern Antarctic Program that enhances our leadership and interest in the region and Davis aerodrome is a key component of this commitment.”

Public comment on the submission is open until 26 February 2020 and can be made via the Regulator’s website.

  • Davis research station was established in 1957 and is situated 4,838km from Hobart.
  • The proposed runway site is the Vestfold Hills, a triangular area of rounded rocky hills that are predominantly ice-free and cover an area of approximately 410 square kilometres. The proposed aerodrome would take up approximately 2 square kilometres.
  • A flight from the Antarctic Gateway city of Hobart to Davis research station would take six hours each way.
  • Access to Davis is currently limited to twice yearly resupply visits by an icebreaker, subject to sea ice conditions, and ski-equipped fixed wing planes flying from nearby Antarctic stations.
  • Australia’s intercontinental aviation access is currently via a blue ice runway at Wilkins Aerodrome, which opened in 2007/08.
    • Wilkins Aerodrome 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 Aerodrome is located 70km from Casey research station.