An Airbus A340 has landed in Antarctica for the first time ever.
It was flown by Hi Fly, a charter airline based in Portugal, which specialises in wet leases (i.e. they hire out both aircraft and crew and are responsible for insurance and maintenance).
Hi Fly 801 took off from Cape Town, South Africa on Tuesday, November the 2nd. The plane was commissioned by Wolf’s Fang, a bougie adventure camp on Antarctica, and brought much-needed supplies to the boutique resort.
Wolf’s Fang is run by high-end Antarctica tourism company White Desert. Hi Fly 801 was led by Captain Carlos Mirpuri, who is also Hi Fly’s vice president.
The flight from Cape Town to Antarctica took five and a half hours, and the crew spent less than three hours in Antarctica, before flying back to Cape Town.
Fox Carolina reports: “The blue-ice runway at the Wolf’s Fang property is designated a C Level airport, despite not technically being an airport. That means that only highly specialized crew can fly there due to challenging conditions.”
Fox Carolina also cited Mipuri’s captain’s log, which read: “The cooler it is the better.”
“Grooving is carved along the runway by special equipment, and after cleaning and carving we get an adequate braking coefficient; the runway being 3,000 meters long, landing and stopping an A340 that heavy on that airfield wouldn’t be a problem.”
The blue glacial ice the run way is built on is almost a mile thick and can easily support a fully-laden A340. But “one of the greatest hazards,” according to The Daily Mail, “is the glare off the snow and ice.”
“The reflection is tremendous, and proper eyewear helps you adjust your eyes between the outside view and the instrumentation. The non-flying pilot has an important role in making the usual plus extra callouts, especially in the late stages of the approach,” Mipuri said, The Daily Mail reports.
Mipuri also reportedly said: “There is also no visual glide slope guidance, and the blending of the runway with the surrounding terrain and the immense white desert around, makes height judgment challenging, to say the least.”
“The altimeters in cold weather also suffer from temperature errors, and need adjustments.”
The landing went perfectly to plan though, with Mipuri saying the A340 is a plane that “delivers, every time.”
CNN Travel reports: “The first recorded flight to Antarctica was a Lockheed Vega 1 monoplane in 1928, piloted by George Hubert Wilkins, an Australian military pilot and explorer.”
“He took off from Deception Island in the South Shetland Islands. The project was funded by William Randolph Hearst, the wealthy American publishing tycoon. Short exploratory flights like these were how scientists and mapmakers got vital information about Antarctica’s topography.”
CNN Travel added: “Since the vast majority of people get to the White Continent via ship, seeing the A340 landing on an ice runway is certainly dramatic – and means there will likely be more such landings in the future.”
Antarctica still doesn’t have any official airports, but there are about 50 runways strewn around the land mass used by researchers and other visitors.