The first purpose-built Australian-owned aircraft for work within Antarctica has rolled off the production line and into the air for test flights in Spain.

Dr Sharman Stone, Federal Parliamentary Secretary responsible for the Australian Antarctic Division said that the first of two CASA 212–400s to support the Australian Government’s Antarctic science program had undergone successful trial flights in Seville where it was manufactured, with the second aircraft almost completed.

“The Australian Antarctic air transport program has been a long time in the planning. To see the first of these aircraft brings that planning to reality and guarantees Australia’s Antarctic program will have the logistic support it needs in Antarctica,” Dr Stone said.

“While the basic CASA design remains, the AAD air transport team modified some of its specifications to cope with the unique Antarctic conditions and to give maximum support to the Australia science program. Extra fuel tanks were added to extend the range of travel from 1500 nautical miles to around 2300, taking the plane beyond the practical reaches of helicopters or ground traverses.

“The increased range will be a great boon for aerial survey work. It will allow a quicker turnaround when transporting researchers and support personnel to field stations and reduce the number of on-ground fuel depots. This will also lessen the likelihood of fuel spills and the need to bring home empty containers. This is good news for the environment,” she said.

“In the past we have mostly relied on helicopters to ferry personnel away from the coastal stations inland. While helicopters will still have a role, the CASA 212–400 aircraft has the advantage of being able to fly in more adverse weather conditions.

“The aircraft will also be used to ferry personnel and equipment between Australia’s three permanent stations at Mawson, Casey and Davis.

“During the last summer season De Havilland Twin Otters did a trial run transferring personnel between Davis and Mawson stations. A trip that usually took several days was reduced to just five hours by air.

“Twin Otters have been a familiar sight in Australia’s Antarctic Territory for many years. However, the greater pay-load and flexibility we have with the CASAs will mean more efficiency.

“The arrival of the CASA 212–400s spells an exciting time ahead for our Antarctic program and is testament to the Australian Government’s commitment to it.”

Dr Stone said that because of its range the new aircraft could also be used in the case of emergency medical evacuation back to Australia without the delays previously encountered waiting for ships or US military aircraft for assistance. The aircraft are to be fitted with skis in Canada before their scheduled arrival in Hobart later in the year before departing for Antarctica.

Aircraft details

CASA — a subsidiary of European Aeronautic Defence and Space company (EADS) makers of Ariane, Airbus and Eurocopter.

CASA 212–400:

  • is the latest light-transport aircraft to be produced by by EADS.
  • twin turbo-prop featuring digital cockpit to reduce pilot fatigue.
  • comprehensive communication and navigation suite to make flying in Antarctica little different from flying with Australia.
  • with the latest advancements in engine technology it has performance and reliability never seen before in an aircraft of this size.
  • brings new levels of safety to Antarctic operations.
  • will operate within the regulatory requirements of commercial transport category operators, unlike the majority of Antarctic aviation which operates under military control or as charter aircraft.

OPERATORS — Sydney-based Skytraders Pty Ltd will operate the aircraft for the AAD after the signing of a 12-year contract in June 2003.

Australian Antarctic Division

Australia is one of 12 original parties to the Antarctic Treaty, which came into force in 1961. Today there are 45 nations as part of this treaty. Australia claims 42 percent of Antarctica and is responsible for four stations: Casey, Davis and Mawson on the Antarctic continent (located in eastern Antarctica) and Macquarie Station in the sub-Antarctic.

The Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) is responsible for all Antarctic scientific research in Australia’s region of Antarctica although not all research is undertaken by the AAD as there is significant collaboration between the AAD and research institutes from around Australia and the world.