The Australian Antarctic Division has today called for expressions of interest from companies interested in servicing a proposed Australian Antarctic air transport link.

Services being sought by the Australian Antarctic Division include provision of aircraft, aircrew and flight planning, supply of catering and fuel and lubricants, and provision of environmental, landing site support and liaison services.

This is the next stage in the implementation of an air transport system that, if cost and environmental criteria are met, should see a direct air link between Hobart and Casey station, 3422km to the south, and an intracontinental system offering flights from there to other Antarctic stations and remote research areas.

A compressed snow runway suitable for wheeled aircraft is planned for construction at Casey, as well as an alternative blue-ice runway in the Bunger Hills 440km to the west.

This proposed air link will provide a greatly improved capacity to support remote area and airborne research, will significantly reduce travel time to Antarctica and will provide greater flexibility in accessing Antarctica, including for emergency evacuations.

The short-listed service providers will be invited to travel to Antarctica this coming summer on a familiarisation flight that will include a more comprehensive briefing. They will visit the sites of the proposed runways at Casey and the Bunger Hills, and landing places elsewhere on the continent.

Following this market-testing stage, formal Requests for Proposal will be issued to the short-listed companies during 2001. Responses will be evaluated for both their cost-effectiveness and their ability to meet stringent environmental standards. The successful service provider or providers will be selected for an initial five-year contract with a proposed five-year extension.