A passenger jet has made a historic landing on a new blue ice runway in Australia's Antarctic territory and regular flights are expected to start within a week, officials said Wednesday.
But trips on the Airbus A319 to the Wilkins Runway will be for scientists and research staff only, with no plans to open the air-link to tourists, pointed out project manager Charlton Clark. The runway is four kilometers long, 700 meters thick and moves about 12 meters southwest a year because of glacial drift. In the first trial landing on Monday, the plane pulled up within 1,000 meters despite the lack of friction to grab the wheels on the ice. Clark said work had begun on the 10 million Australian dollar (8.7 million US dollar) runway 70 kilometers from Australia's Casey research station in 2005, with crews living in shipping containers. "Just living in that environment, with conditions of minus 35 degrees and up to a hundred knots of wind, let alone doing the work, was an amazing undertaking," he said. Using laser leveling technology, they graded and shaved the ice flat and must keep grooming it to keep it snow free. The runway was named for the adventurer and aviator Sir Hubert Wilkins, who made the first flight in Antarctica 79 years ago. Scientists and specialists working at Australia's Antarctic field stations who previously had to spend weeks voyaging to and from the ice by sea, are expected to start flying within a week, he said. Other nations with Antarctic research stations have been flying to the icy continent for years from countries such as New Zealand and South Africa, but using military aircraft. The Australian Antarctic Division says its introduction of a modern jet aircraft, which can complete a return journey without refueling, marks the start of a new era. (AFP/MP)