Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) engineers have made substantial progress on a runway being constructed near Casey station. The runway will serve as the hub for Australia’s air transport system to and within Antarctica.

Parliamentary Secretary for the Antarctic Dr Sharman Stone said that after the site was proved suitable, runway construction trials had begun.

“Engineers have found that the site, inland from Casey station and adjacent to an area surveyed last year, meets the requirements to support a blue ice runway and is clearly the best in the region for its establishment,” said Dr Stone.

The AAD’s Air Transport project manager Charlton Clark said that preliminary grading of the surface had been completed, core samples taken to ensure proper structural criteria were met and there had been no evidence of melting surface or subsurface.

“Surveying was used to establish two master benchmarks at the site and to map the runway’s surface 100 metres wide by four kilometres long,” Mr Clark said.

“Engineers have completed a 'proof test’ of the region’s glacial surface using a Caterpillar D7 tractor of similar weight to a Falcon 900EX, the aircraft proposed to be used on the air link, perched on four wooden blocks.

“George Blaisdell, an expert from the Cold Region Research and Engineering Laboratory in the United States is providing onsite technical assistance for the ice runway construction,” Mr Clark said.

“The AAD’s team has also worked closely with the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) to ensure the runway meets strict safety standards and has minimum impact on the environment,” he said.

Dr Stone said that all indications at this stage were that the runway should be completed in the 2003–2004 summer season.

“The environmental impact of the proposed air transport system will be minimal given the use of a snow/ice runway and the most suitable aircraft,” said Dr Stone.

“The Falcon 900EX is capable of carrying enough fuel for the round trip between Hobart and Casey. This reduces the need for refuelling in Antarctica and, therefore, the risk of fuel spills.”