The first flight south for the Australian Antarctic summer season took off from Hobart this morning, bound for Wilkins Aerodrome.

The Australian Antarctic Division’s Airbus A319 is carrying 38 expeditioners to the icy continent, including plumbers, chefs, electricians and aircraft support personnel.

Acting Aviation Manager, Steve Wall, said a team of expeditioners spent the winter at nearby Casey research station and prepared the runway for the busy summer period.

“It’s taken about seven weeks to prepare the 3.5 kilometre-long runway and re-establish the Wilkins camp, which is packed down over winter to protect buildings and equipment from blizzards,” Mr Wall said.

“To get the airlink operational we have to set-up the living and working buildings and essentially re-build the ice runway, which is situated on a glacier.

“This includes clearing, surveying and grading the runway, proof-rolling to test the structural strength and repairing any weaknesses if required, setting up navigational aids and using snow-groomers to produce the required surface conditions to land an aircraft.

“It’s a huge effort, but it’s really exciting to be able to get the expeditioners in early to prepare for the busy science season ahead.”

The Australian Antarctic Program will support 12 flights of the A319 and six flights of the Royal Australian Airforce C-17A Globemaster III to Wilkins Aerodrome from October through to March.