You scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours!

The profile that Australia holds in the international arena of Antarctic logistics and operations is high, and the innovation and development in this part of the Australian Antarctic program is something I am very proud of. The ability to share our successes and to learn from those of our partner nations working in Antarctica is I believe of great value to being able to deliver standards of support that are safe, environmentally excellent and resource efficient.

In this regard the Australian Antarctic program is not unique and there are long established processes for the sharing of information. The Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programmes (COMNAP) meets annually and also provides the means for frequent and easy interchange of ideas between national operators; in fact, COMNAP was established in 1988 to facilitate liaison between the managers of national agencies responsible for the conduct of logistics operations in support of Antarctic science. The membership now includes twenty-nine countries from the Americas, Africa, Asia, Europe and Oceania. Representatives meet annually to discuss cooperative logistics and scientific programs, develop standard operational procedures, and formulate technical advice, on request, to Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings and its Committee on Environmental Protection.

The AAD works to maintain a high profile in COMNAP and plays an active role in all of its activities. At present four members of our Operations Branch hold leadership positions in COMNAP working groups and networks — as Chair of the Standing Committee of Antarctic Logistics and Operations (SCALOP), and as coordinators of three out of the four COMNAP networks — Energy Management, Training, and Environment. 

The interactions we have with our COMNAP colleagues are at a number of levels; at both the policy and the very practical ends of the operational spectrum. In regard to the first of these we are working with our colleagues to help COMNAP develop clear operational advice on matters such as guidelines for field training; for emergency response and contingency planning; on environmental training; on Antarctic shipping; on the operation of aircraft in the vicinity of wildlife; as well as an analysis of Initial Environmental Evaluations and a survey on tourism.

At the same time our representatives have been busy within the networks and at the annual meetings, offering to share our operational experiences and anxious to learn from those of our colleagues. This happens in a number of ways; not only in relation to technical developments and project activity, but in support of day to day operations in Antarctica and also in the period afterwards as we each learn from operational experiences at our stations and in the field.

I think that of the contemporary projects we in the AAD have been managing, three seem to be of most interest to the COMNAP/SCALOP community:

• Air transport — This innovative project offers many opportunities for international collaboration and the COMNAP community are keen to learn about each development as it occurs.

• Thala Valley project — This project to clean up an old waste site has been extremely demanding and the modest costs belie the complexity and sophistication of the work across government departments, all AAD branches and at Casey station itself; it is ground breaking stuff (sorry — I couldn’t resist the pun). We have been learning every step of the way.

• Station infrastructure — Our COMNAP colleagues are very interested in the innovations being tested that should allow us to reduce our footprint while increasing the quality and number of science projects able to be supported. The Building Management and Control System, the Davis living quarters and the Mawson wind turbine projects are key parts of this. Each has attracted genuine interest from our COMNAP colleagues; you may not realise that our wind turbine team won an Engineering Excellence Award for their work — well deserved.

Overall I believe that Australia’s modest level of innovation and special purpose design work, work that is based on our own unique experiences and requirements, adds to the value of our input to the COMNAP processes and increases our standing in the international Antarctic community.

But this is not all that we do with our COMNAP colleagues. The ‘passage way discussions’ that COMNAP facilitates are what (perhaps) are of most interest to the people who do the work in Antarctica. They include topics regarding the practical ‘what if”' and ‘oh really’ and ‘how about I do this, if you do that’ interactions between national programs that are important to success in the conduct of day to day operations in Antarctica. For example, the trade that goes on between national operators in ‘drums of fuel’ that are stored at various Antarctic bases, field camps and caches is pivotal to the success of many programs/projects; just as the sharing of technical/trade support between programs can be important too. 

It hopefully will not be surprising to hear that COMNAP provides a valuable means to develop levels of mutual understanding, friendship and familiarity between operators and which allows requests for assistance to be made easily at any hour, and with the assurance that there is a commitment to help out in an emergency if it is at all possible.

In Antarctica there are many more examples of how this support at the operational level works. This season we asked for and received immediate and positive responses for support with flights between Davis and Casey from our Russian colleagues at Mirny; we also received generous advice and assistance with our runway project at Casey from the USAP (I am relieved to report that we gave a little back when the NSF requested our support in the recovery of a data package from a high altitude balloon that landed only 200km from Mawson); and there was a solid amount of work between the Chinese and Australian programs to deliver and return expeditioners to Zhongshan station. Of course, the longstanding partnership with our neighbouring French colleagues has allowed our project at Commonwealth Bay to progress easily.

In fact, each season the interactions and cooperation shared by the ‘operators’ allow for better results than would otherwise be possible; they are frequent, regular and operationally very important. I can assure you that we in ‘Ops’ are extremely grateful for the opportunity to work and share with, and to learn from, the experiences of our colleagues in COMNAP … the title of this article was chosen with good reason.

Kim Pitt, General Manager Operations, AAD