Construction of the first glacial blue-ice runway in Australia’s Antarctica Territory is about to get underway in preparation for the introduction of an intercontinental air service in 2007–08.

The Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator Ian Campbell, said around $3 million of specialist equipment — with almost $2 million of that sourced through Tasmanian business — will leave Hobart today aboard the icebreaker MV Vasiliy Golovnin.

“The Australian Government has earmarked $46.3 million over four years to construct the runway and to introduce an air service between Hobart and Antarctica, reducing the dependence on sea travel,” Senator Campbell said.

“Major construction will now go ahead following preliminary works during the past two seasons at a site to be known as Wilkins Ice Runway inland from Casey station.”

The runway is named after Australia’s legendary supporter of Antarctic exploration and aviation, Sir Hubert Wilkins, and on completion will be almost four kilometres long and 100m wide.

“Construction personnel are already at the site, after travelling in by ship earlier this season to set up camp in readiness for the arrival of the equipment,” Senator Campbell said.

He said the Australian Antarctic Division had already trialled techniques to build a runway from natural glacial ice.

"This has considerable advantages over a traditional rock or pavement runway in that there will not be any permanent or significant environmental impact," he said.

“If the runway were ever to be abandoned it would revert to its natural state within two to three years.

“Introduction of a direct air link from Australia will allow us to do our research in Antarctica smarter and better because scientists will be able to get there and back quicker than spending weeks travelling by sea.

“This is going to attract more senior scientists, many of whom cannot now afford the time taken by ship.

“Within two years, when the air link is up and running, we will see a marked streamlining of the way we're able to do our science, keeping us at the forefront of research in Antarctica.”

MV Vasiliy Golovnin is scheduled to depart Hobart today at 5pm.