Australia’s Antarctic season for 2020-21 has commenced, with the summer’s first Airbus A319 flight to Wilkins Aerodrome departing from Hobart today.

Expeditioners are heading to the blue ice runway in east Antarctica 3400 kilometres from Tasmania, about 70 kilometres inland from Casey research station.

Some will spend the summer at Casey research station, while others will stay on during next winter until the end of 2021.

Prior to going south, expeditioners spent at least two weeks in isolation in Hobart, with multiple COVID-19 tests before departure and on arrival at Casey, as well as another period of enhanced social distancing on station.

The Australian Antarctic Division’s planning for the 2020–21 summer season is focussed on preventing the introduction of COVID-19 to Antarctica and keeping people safe.

Activities for this summer season have been scaled back to focus on changing over teams and resupplying stations, with around half of the usual contingent of 500 people travelling to Antarctica and Macquarie Island.

There will be no major construction activities on Australian stations and science projects in Antarctica will be limited to automated data collection and wildlife monitoring.

33 expeditioners are travelling south on the first two flights. The second flight is scheduled for Wednesday 11 November, weather permitting. Seven Airbus A319 flights to Wilkins Aerodrome are planned this season between November 2020 and March 2021.