On the eve of the winter solstice, the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) has signed a long-term contract for two aircraft to operate its flights within Antarctica.

The Parliamentary Secretary for the Antarctic Dr Sharman Stone today announced that the 12-year contract between the AAD and Skytraders Pty Ltd meant that intra-continental flights between Davis, Casey and Mawson were one step closer.

Dr Stone said that the two CASA 212–400 fixed-wing aircraft would provide transport and field support for the Australian Antarctic program beginning in the summer of 2004/05.

CASA is a subsidiary of the European Aeronautic Defence and Space company (EADS) and is a world leader in the light and medium transport aircraft industry.

“Skytraders will operate the CASA 212–400 aircraft which combines the advantages of new aviation technology with the experience gained from more than 2.5 million flight hours logged by more than 460 CASA 212s currently registered in 42 countries.”

Dr Stone said that its robustness and short take-off and landing capability made it particularly suitable for conditions in Antarctica.

“The aircraft has large, relatively low pressure tyres so it can operate most of the time on ice using its wheels, however, it will also be fitted with hydraulic wheel-skis so it can be used on a wider range of surfaces.

“The CASA 212–400 is a very versatile aircraft that will enable the fitting of a large rear door and ramp. This means that over-ground transport vehicles such as skidoos and quad bikes can be loaded into the planes and deployed to remote sites in the field.”

Dr Stone said that the aircraft would be modified with additional external and internal fuel tanks providing the capability to cover greater distances.

“With external tanks only the aircraft would have a range of around 1500 nautical miles. The addition of internal tanks will extend that range to about 2300 nautical miles. That will be a great boon for aerial survey work.

“Environmentally, it will remove the need to store caches of fuel in the field as is presently required for helicopter operations.

“The additional range will also allow the aircraft to fly directly from Hobart to Casey at the beginning of each season,” said Dr Stone.

“Until now, we have relied to a large degree on helicopters to ferry personnel from the stations into the field. And while helicopters will still have a role, the CASA 212–400 aircraft has the advantages of being able to fly greater distances carrying larger loads and fly in adverse weather conditions where a helicopter could not.

“Sometimes days can be lost simply waiting for weather to clear so that a helicopter can operate. The CASA 212–400 does not face the same constraints, so the benefits are obvious,” Dr Stone said.

“We have, on occasions, used Twin Otters to support operations and they have served our purpose well. The introduction of the more modern CASA 212–400, with significantly greater payload and range will put the AAD at the forefront of cold climate aviation.”

Dr Stone said that the CASA 212-400s would be used in Antarctica throughout the summer season from October to February and will complement existing shipping and helicopter operations.

“The runway being developed at Casey station will be used to support the CASA 212–400 when it is flying with wheels, on its delivery and return flights to and from Antarctica.

“This runway will also be a point of arrival in the Antarctic for the Falcon flights which are being planned for a new continent-to-continent service in the future,” said Dr Stone.