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 Australian Government announced its intention to construct a paved runway near Davis research station, subject to environmental and other Government approvals.
In December 2019, the Australian Government committed additional funding over two-and-a-half years to advance the design and environmental assessments required for the Davis Aerodrome Project.
Aviation in Antarctica
Australia has a long history of aviation in Antarctica and aviation is a key component of operations on the icy continent.
Australia’s current Antarctic aviation system consists of a summer-only link from Hobart to the Wilkins Aerodrome ice runway, approximately 70km inland of Casey research station.
Intercontinental flights to Wilkins are limited to the beginning and end of summer, with a six-week closure in mid-summer when warmer temperatures cause the ice surface to weaken.
Intracontinental flights to other stations and field sites use aircraft such as DHC-6 Twin Otters, Basler BT-67 capable of landing on specially prepared ski ways.
Currently, access to Antarctica in winter is difficult, with temperatures dropping to −40°C at Davis research station.
If approved, the construction of a paved runway at Davis research station would represent a significant capability boost that would revolutionise our scientific activities and enhance Australia’s leadership and long-term interests in the region.
An aviation capability that regularly delivers scientists and equipment to Antarctica offers a number of significant science benefits, including unprecedented opportunities to monitor change real-time, and improve the accuracy of forecast models, sea level rise predictions and climate change impacts.
Access to the continent across all seasons would allow scientists to directly investigate processes through the full cycle of changes including during the cold and dark winter months. It would also provide the opportunity for study of wildlife, such as krill, penguins, seals and seabirds, through their full annual life cycle.
The proposed aerodrome
After three field seasons of geotechnical and environmental investigations, the Australian Antarctic Division has identified a suitable site for a runway in the ice-free Vestfold Hills region of East Antarctica, approximately six kilometres from Davis research station.
The proposed Vestfold Hills site has
- Coastal ice-free area with favourable geotechnical characteristics
- Proximity to Davis research station (6km)
- A relatively mild and benign climate
- Meteorological predictability
The runway will be almost 5000 kilometres from Hobart, with a flight time of around six hours. It will be 1400 kilometres from Australia’s existing,summer-only intercontinental ice runway at Wilkins Aerodrome, near Casey research station.
If approved, the proposed Davis aerodrome would be the first paved runway in Antarctica. The runway will provide greater access to Davis research station and surrounding regions. The station is currently only accessible during the Austral summer by icebreaker or internal flights using small aircraft.