Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Southern Exposure

A while ago we reported on the perils faced by intrepid cabin crew members when arriving at chilly destinations; the frozen feet suffered by stewardesses in court shoes standing at the bottom of the air stairs at Fairbanks, Alaska for half an hour being a prime cause for complaint. But even that ain't cold compared with a runway carved out of the ice in Antarctica.

Admittedly the crew working the flight probably won't be required to too much meeting and greeting as it's not (yet) a commercial service, but the Australian government have just started regular flights using an Airbus A319 to take scientists to their remote Casey research facility 45 miles from the Antarctic circle.

Working for the past three summers crews have carved out the two and a half mile long Wilkins runway on the 500 metre thick ice. Summer runs from mid-November to mid-February and boasts an average temperature of -23C (-10F). The runway has been named after Sir Hubert Wilkins, the pioneer who made the first flight in Antarctica 79 years ago.

The Antarctic Airlink Project will make the 4 hour 20 minute flight weekly from Hobart with an average of 20-30 passengers and cargo, with no plans as yet to carry tourists. Let's hear it for the pilot who landed an Airbus on, literally, a sheet of ice for the first time last month.

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