Australian Antarctic scientists are now a step closer to having air access to the ice. Following assessment of several industry proposals, Dr Sharman Stone, Parliamentary Secretary responsible for the Antarctic, announced today that Sydney-based company Skytraders had been selected as the preferred supplier.

Further work with the Australian Antarctic Division will now be undertaken to see how the service can best be provided and funded.

The new service is expected to give Australia’s Antarctic research program much more flexibility, Dr Stone said.

“This is an important development. An air link will significantly reduce travelling times for scientists and improve Australia’s capacity to support research in remote areas”.

“Australia’s Antarctic Territory covers 42% of the continent, nearly twice the size of Australia.”

The Skytraders proposal is for a 16-passenger jet operating between Hobart and a hard glacier ice runway near Casey station.

The Falcon jet can fly non-stop from Hobart to Casey and return. This avoids the need for refuelling in Antarctica, minimising the risk of fuel spills and the need to transport and store aircraft fuel in Antarctica.

The air service will also increase safety for passengers, with the weather forecast for each flight only needing to hold for six hours. If there is any significant weather change during flight, the aircraft can return to Australia.

Dr Stone said that subject to adequate financing and environmental approvals, airfield construction for the air service could start next summer, with the first flights beginning in the 2003–2004 summer.

“We need to ensure the new service minimises the environmental impacts and maximises the scientific outcomes”, Dr Stone said.

The Falcon intercontinental service will aim to provide 25 flights to Casey during each summer season. Personnel bound for other Antarctic destinations would change at Casey, to a ski-equipped, CASA 212 aircraft for flights to Davis, Mawson or remote field locations.

The next stage of the air service project development will involve the identification of other potential users of the service during the winter months to offset costs in summer.

“Other countries flying scientists to the Antarctic may also be interested in chartering the service. The aircraft may also be useful for increasing surveillance in our fight to detect illegal fishing”, Dr Stone said.