Australia’s Casey station will be the centre of field work to provide the basis for full runway construction in 2003–04 (subject to environmental and other regulatory approvals) for a new Australia–Antarctica air link. The field program includes confirmation of a runway site, preliminary construction trials and establishment of additional automatic weather stations.
The project is designed to provide much greater flexibility in deploying scientists and support people in Antarctica. Up to 25 planned flights are planned each summer, using a 16-seat Dassault Falcon 900EX wide body passenger jet, between Hobart and a compacted snow runway near Casey.
Designed to complement the long haul sea voyages to Antarctica, the jet flights would enable direct return travel between Hobart and Casey. If prevented from landing at Casey by weather or other factors, the long-range jet can return to Australia without landing, reducing the need for refuelling in the sensitive Antarctic environment, minimising the potential for fuel spills, and increasing passenger safety.
Recent Australian work has included meetings between the Australian Antarctic Division, the Bureau of Meteorology, the Civil Aviation Authority and the preferred supplier of the air service, SkyTraders. SkyTraders has been pleasantly surprised by the level of interest by other nations in the proposed service, raising the potential for cost-sharing by extending access to the flights to other national science programs.
A September 2002 stakeholders’ workshop at the Australian Antarctic Division headquarters at Kingston to refine the proposal was attended by George Blaisdell, a world expert in ice runway construction from the Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory in the United States.