For the first time the Australian Government’s Antarctic Division (AAD) has used aircraft to conduct a major changeover of personnel replacing the time-honoured dependency on ships.

Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment Dr Sharman Stone said that two Twin Otter aircraft have been used to transfer 22 expeditioners and scientific cargo from Australia’s Davis station to Mawson station.

After arriving at Davis station on board the Antarctic resupply ship Aurora Australis, the expeditioners were flown the 650km across the continent by the Twin Otters to relieve the Mawson over-wintering party who will join the ship at Davis for the return journey to Australia.

Dr Stone said “A journey that usually took a minimum of several days by ship, was completed in less than five hours by the twin turbine engine De Havilland Twin Otters.”

“Besides transporting replacement personnel, the aircraft will also be used to support more than 20 remote field parties undertaking research up to 800km inland from Australia’s coastal stations,” Dr Stone said. “It’s a great leap forward since huskies were the main mode of transport in the region.”

“The use of fixed-wing aircraft has significantly reduced the need for slow and dangerous over-snow traverses and provides a major boost to the conduct of field research.

“The aircraft fly to strict operational requirements designed to maximise safety. At the same time they are kinder to Antarctica’s unique environment. They also improve search, rescue and medical evacuation capability,” Sharman Stone said.

Dr Stone said that the operation of the Twin Otters this season was a forerunner to the implementation of the first stage of the Australian Government’s Antarctic intra-continental air transport system planned to begin next summer.

Two new-generation CASA C212–400 aircraft will depart Australia from Hobart to Casey before flying expeditioners and key scientific equipment throughout Eastern Antarctica.

“While the Twin Otters we have chartered to date have been very reliable and of great assistance to our science and field programs, the C212–400s will have greater range for the long distances between Australia’s Antarctic stations.

“They also have a greater capacity to carry more cargo and fuel. This means we will no longer need to store as much fuel in field depots and that can only be good news for the environment. It greatly reduce spills and leakages.

“This is an exciting step forward to our future operations in Antarctica and will allow us more flexibility and efficiency in the way we undertake critical research into climate change, ozone depletion and eco-system protection in Australia’s Antarctic Territory,” Dr Stone said.