The proposed air link between Hobart and Antarctica comes a step closer when representatives from a number of companies interested in providing the air link leave Hobart on Saturday (30 December) aboard the Polar Bird for an inspection and familiarisation visit.

The representatives, from a number of companies, including Australian and overseas operators and consortiums, were short-listed on the basis of their expressions of interest in providing the service.

Dr Tony Press, Director of the Australian Antarctic Division, said today, “The air link would provide a greatly improved capacity to support remote area and airborne scientific research. Importantly, it will significantly reduce travel time to and from Antarctica for scientists, and provide greater flexibility of access. This visit by company representatives is a very important step towards selection of an air service provider”.

It is proposed that the air transport system will involve a direct air link between Hobart and Australia’s Casey station 3422km to the south, and an intra-continental system providing flights from Casey to Australia’s other Antarctic stations and remote areas for research.

During the visit to Casey, company representatives will examine existing facilities and infrastructure, observe Australian science and support activities, and inspect sites for a proposed compressed snow runway which, when developed, would be suitable for wheeled aircraft. The company representatives will also inspect a naturally occurring blue-ice site suitable for wheeled aircraft, in the Bunger Hills area, 440km west of Casey.

Dr Press said that next year the responses provided by the prospective air service providers would be evaluated for their capacity to meet safety, operational, cost-effectiveness, and environmental standards.

“Environmental impact assessments, cost-benefit analyses, and risk analyses of the overall system are currently being undertaken, and any decision on implementation of the air transport system will be made in considering the outcome of these studies”, Dr Press said today.