In a first for the Australian Antarctic Program, Australia’s Airbus will make a series of flights to a sea-ice runway in Antarctica transporting hundreds of international expeditioners.

Starting next week the Airbus A319, operated by Skytraders, will fly 220 Italian, French, Korean, German and New Zealand expeditioners to Italy’s Mario Zucchelli Station, about 3650km from Hobart.

Operations Manager, Robb Clifton, said the Airbus flies to Australia’s glacial ice runway at Wilkins Aerodrome each season, but has not landed on the sea-ice near Mario Zucchelli Station before.

“The team at Mario Zucchelli have groomed the sea-ice, which is about two metres thick, to ensure a smooth landing,” Mr Clifton said.

“Hobart is becoming a really important gateway to East Antarctica, it’s really exciting that we are able to support the Italians and other Antarctic nations to get their people south to start their summer scientific research programs.”

Skytraders Chief Pilot, Captain Garry Studd, said the return flight from Hobart to the Italian station will take about 11 hours.

“We have the first flight scheduled for early next week, followed by another four over the next two weeks, weather permitting,” Captain Studd said.

“While we have landed the A319 on the sea-ice at McMurdo Sound before, this will be a new location, surrounded by mountains.

“The conditions on the ground need to be perfect, so we are hoping for blue sky days and light winds.”

Director of ENEA-UTA, the organisation running the Italian Program, Vincenzo Cincotti, said it’s great to be able to use the Australian Airbus to get to their station.

“The cooperation between Antarctic Programs is very important for all of us on the icy continent and we really appreciate that this season the Australians are able to help us get south,” Mr Cincotti said.

The Italian program usually fly to Antarctica on a contracted Hercules L100 from New Zealand.

In December Australia’s Airbus will also fly three flights between Cape Town and Troll research station, located in Queen Maud Land, in support of the Norwegian Antarctic Program.