A New Zealand airline is hoping to run flights to Antarctica that would land on an ice runway.
But tourists wanting to travel to the frozen continent will need to keep their hopes in check. The chartered Air New Zealand flights would be for scientists and their support crews, and the airline said it has no plans to begin commercial trips.
Many countries already fly scientists to Antarctica. But those flights are typically run by government or military agencies, or by specialised companies. Air New Zealand plans to use one of its regular passenger jets for the Antarctic flights, a Boeing 767-300.
An airline spokeswoman said the jet does not need any modifications and that the Antarctic ice runway has the characteristics of a normal runway covered in dry snow, much like pilots might expect to encounter at an airport like Tokyo. The airline plans an October 5 trial run. If successful, it would operate two more charter flights during the upcoming Antarctic summer season.
Planes would leave from Christchurch and land on the Pegasus runway on the Ross Ice Shelf, a trip of 2,090 nautical miles that takes about five hours. Unlike the existing military flights, the Air New Zealand planes could return, in good conditions, without refuelling. Getting fuel to Antarctica is difficult and expensive.
The flights have been chartered by Antarctica New Zealand, the agency that runs the country's Antarctic programme. Operations manager Graeme Ayressaid the landing strip needs to be prepared carefully so there's sufficient granulation to provide friction. "Obviously you can't have a slippery ice rink," he said. "That would be quite hazardous."
He said the planes would be able to transport about 200 scientists and support staff on each trip."They have the capability to move mass numbers of people pretty quickly," he said. "It's a pretty exciting time."
A spokesman for New Zealand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade, said the country tries to limit Antarctic tourism and minimise its impact on the environment. "This is consistent with Antarctica's status as a natural reserve devoted to peace and science," he said.