For what can be called historical, an Airbus A340 plane has landed on Antarctica. Operated by Hi Fly, a wet-lease airline specialist, the fleet Hi Fly 801 took off from Cape Town, South Africa, earlier this month. It travelled a total of 2500 nautical miles or 4630 kilometres back and forth. The journey took roughly five hours to fly each way. Upon landing, the team spent nearly three hours on the grounds of Antarctica.
Hi Fly is a wet lease airline company that hires out planes, crew, maintenance and insurance. Wolf’s Fang, an adventure camp in Antarctica, hired Hi Fly to perform this historic mission. The staff for the resort were on board, along with some cargo. The next trip would include scientists and possibly, leisure travellers.
The flight was landed on the blue-ice runway at the Wolf’s Fang property, designated as a C-level airport, despite not technically being an airport. Only highly specialized flying can fly there due to challenging conditions.
Antarctica's challenging terrain
According to the pilot Carlos Mirpuri, the flight went smoothly, but the runway wasn’t easy to spot. The runway is carved with special equipment, and after cleaning and carving, the pilots get an adequate braking coefficient. The runway is 3,000 meters long.
“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,” said Mirpuri.
The crew had to land with no visual glide slope guidance. The runway blends with the surrounding terrain, and there is immense white desert around, making the height judgment challenging even for experienced pilots.
“When we reached taxi speed, I could hear a round of applause from the cabin. We were joyful. After all, we were writing history,” he said.
While flights to Antarctica is not uncommon, this was the first time by an Airbus A340. The first known flight to Antarctica was a Lockheed Vega 1 monoplane in 1928, flown by an Australian military pilot George Hubert Wilkins. There is no official airport in Antarctica, but there are 50 landing strips and runways.