The first stage of tenders has been called for equipment to construct an ice runway in Antarctica.

Tenders are invited for the supply of runway construction machinery near Casey station as part of the new Australia-Antarctic air link.

The Federal Government recently announced funding for the project totalling $46.3 million over four years.

Australian Antarctic Division’s Air Transport Manager Charlton Clark said this was the first opportunity for businesses to compete for equipment and services required to develop the new Australia–Antarctica intercontinental air link.

The equipment will be shipped to Antarctica on the major resupply voyage to Casey station in early January 2006.

“Feasibility studies, including runway construction trials and environmental assessments confirming the area’s suitability, have already been undertaken and construction work can now begin,” Mr Clark said.

“A team of six people operating in sub-zero temperatures will 'build’ the ice runway over the next two Antarctic summers.”

The runway is sited on an area of flat glacial ice over 500m thick about 70kms from Casey station.

Construction will involve grading the ice using laser-controlled equipment and then using rollers to compact it with snow.

The new runway will allow flights using a long-range jet aircraft between Hobart in Tasmania and Casey station in Antarctica during the summer months. The flights, expected to take about five hours, will significantly improve the effectiveness and efficiency of Australia’s Antarctic Programme, which is now reliant on sea transport to the frozen continent.

“Work on the runway will move into full swing this coming summer season in preparation for trial flights scheduled to start in 2006–07 with a regular service due to start in 2007–08,” Mr Clark said.

Tenders close on 17 June 2005.