Environment Minister Peter Garrett has returned from Antarctica inspired by the advantages a permanent air link with the frozen continent will have for scientific research.

Mr Garrett was aboard the Airbus A319 for the first official flight, which also carried scientists to Casey station to remain behind for work on several projects.

Passengers set foot on the glacial Wilkins Runway, about 70 kilometres from Casey, a little over four hours after departing Hobart.

Mr Garrett said the dramatic saving in travel time will make a huge difference to researchers getting to and from Antarctica.

“To descend out of the sky across this Antarctic continent and see a beautifully constructed air strip on blue ice in the middle of this vast Antarctic expanse was a really incredible experience,” said Mr Garrett.

“We are now on the cusp of a new era in the harnessing of knowledge and information from the scientific research that will happen in Antarctica — it’s a very good day for Australia.”

Mr Garrett described the flight as “historic” and the Airlink team “incredibly professional” and said he was very proud of all those who had worked to bring the project to fruition over many years.

“I want to, on behalf of the government and in fact on behalf of the people of Australia, congratulate everybody involved,” he said.

The Minister was greeted on his arrival by Casey Station Leader, Dr Jeremy Smith. He then took a tour of the facilities at Wilkins Runway and met the runway construction crew.

Mr Garrett was accompanied on the flight by the Australian Antarctic Division’s Director Dr Tony Press, Chief Scientist Dr Michael Stoddart and a number of senior research scientists.