Changes for Australian Antarctic Program to keep the icy continent free of COVID-19

plane on ice
Basler near Casey research station, 2017 (Photo: John Gilmour)
Plane on iceplanes on ice runway with passengers getting off

The Australian Antarctic Program is taking steps to keep Antarctica COVID-19 free ahead of the next summer season, including a decision not to deploy small intra-continental aircraft.

Australia normally uses fixed wing planes to fly expeditioners between our three continental stations and field locations.

To get to Antarctica, the Basler and Twin Otter planes transit from Canada through North and South America, then across the Antarctic continent, stopping at other nations’ bases to reach Australian stations.

General Manager of Operations and Safety, Charlton Clark, said the uncertainty around the spread of COVID-19 and the risk of introducing it into Antarctica through this route has led to the decision.

“This means there will be no flights between Australia’s three Antarctic stations, Casey, Davis and Mawson,” Charlton Clark said.

“This will impact some of our wintering expeditioners, who were scheduled to return home at the end of this year. They will now have to wait for the ship in February.”

“Additionally some projects requiring flights between our stations have been cancelled for this summer.”

Inter-continental flights between Hobart and Australia’s Wilkins Aerodrome, near Casey station, will continue during the summer season between October and March.

“We will be implementing a number of other measures to keep our people safe,” said Mr Clark.

“We will have a compulsory quarantine period in Hobart before expeditioners go south and everyone will be screened before getting on board our ship or planes.”

This season’s activities have been scaled back and it’s anticipated around 250 people will travel south.

“We will be focusing on changing over our teams and resupplying stations. There will be no major construction activities and science projects will be limited to automated data collection.”

“Our planning for the 2020–21 summer season is focused on preventing the introduction of COVID-19 to our stations and keeping our people safe,” Mr Clark said.