Australia’s Antarctic Airlink Project, to set up an air link between Hobart and Antarctica, achieved another milestone last summer with the successful construction of a trial snow-capped, blue ice runway, some 70km from Casey station.

The achievement brings the Australian Government’s $46.3 million initiative and the promise of increased flexibility and collaboration in the Australian Antarctic programme a step closer.

Speaking at a major international meeting of managers of national Antarctic programmes in Hobart, Airlink Project Manager Charlton Clark, of the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD), said the air link would improve access to Australia’s research stations, enhancing Australia’s scientific research capabilities, while minimising our environmental impacts on the continent. It would also open up opportunities for collaboration with other nations.

“The air link will provide greater opportunities for scientists from other nations to collaborate with Australian scientists on Antarctic research or to participate in the Australian Antarctic programme,” Mr Clark said.

“It will also enable Australian scientists to fly to other countries’ stations within Antarctica.”

Already, construction of the runway has involved a sharing of knowledge between Australia and other countries with established aircraft operations in Antarctica. This collaborative spirit is set to continue when Australia begins trial runs of a jet aircraft to Antarctica this austral season.

The air link will operate from the summer of 2007–08, with 10 to 20 flights per season. It will complement the existing use of ski-equipped CASA 212–400 aircraft within Antarctica.