The Airbus A319, the aircraft selected for the Australian Government’s inaugural $46.3 million Antarctic Air Service has arrived in Hobart, its home base for regular flights to Antarctica beginning later this year.

The Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, Mr Malcolm Turnbull MP, said the arrival of the Airbus in Australia was a major milestone in the Australian Government’s plan to modernise support for Australia’s Antarctic program.

“The Australian Antarctic air service is one of the most ambitious undertakings attempted on the Antarctic continent,” Mr Turnbull said.

“The size of the undertaking is only matched by the importance Antarctica plays in the global climate system.”

Regular flights from Hobart in Tasmania to the four kilometre-long Wilkins runway near Casey station, in Australia’s Antarctic territory, will begin in the 2007/2008 season.

“Although the aircraft has arrived several months before the service is scheduled to start, we had thought there might be an opportunity this summer to land a flight at Wilkins,” Mr Turnbull said.

"While the Wilkins runway is ready to go, with the Antarctic winter now closing in, an over-flight of the runway will now be the only possible flight this season." "All this puts us in a good position to start regular flights, as planned, later this year."

“It’s pleasing to see that a project of this size remains on track and on budget.”

Mr Turnbull said the Airbus would help secure Australia’s position as a world leader in Antarctic capabilities and research.

“It will allow researchers to travel between Australia and Antarctica much quicker, reducing the time it takes to travel from Hobart to Wilkins runway in Antarctica from 10 days to 4.3 hours,” Mr Turnbull said.

The A319 is leased and operated by Skytraders Pty Ltd of Sydney. The initial lease period for the Airbus will be for five years.