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‘We were writing history’: Airbus A340 lands in Antarctica for the first time

written by Isabella Richards | November 24, 2021
Hi Fly lands an Airbus A340 on Antarctica for the first time in history. (Hi Fly)

An Airbus A340 has landed in Antarctica for the first time in history with wet lease company Hi Fly earlier this month.

According to a press release this week, the widebody aircraft travelled just over five hours from Cape Town in South Africa to the white continent, landing on Wolf’s Fang Runway (WFR) on 2 November.

Hi Fly is a widebody wet lease company which provides the jet, crew and maintenance team for contractors, operating from two bases in Portugal and Malta. The company operates a solely Airbus fleet.

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The Hi Fly 801 was led by Captain Carlos Mirpuri, the company’s vice-president, contracted by an upcoming resort centre in Antarctica, Wolf’s Fang, to bring over supplies and resources ahead of the next summer season.

“This is not just another flight, there are specificities related to this very remote operation we would be conducting, the harsh environment we would face, and the need to ensure proper protective clothing would be on board,” said Mirpuri in the captain’s log.

Captain Mirpuri and the crew inspected the aircraft efficiently while cabin checks and catering were undergoing before the unprecedented flight.

By 8:19am, the aircraft was officially airborne, according to the captain. The journey was 2,500 nautical miles, and the flight back would take an additional 10 minutes.

The captain said the aircraft was the “ideal” choice for a flight and landing in Antarctica due to its four-engine redundancy and very long range.

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The aircraft operated its inaugural flight in 1991, and in 2011 Airbus announced its production would end ahead of its successor’s – the A350 – launch.

“A blue glacial ice runway is hard,” the captain said. “It can stand a heavy airplane on it. Its depth is 1.4 kilometres of hard air free ice. The next important thing is that the cooler it is, the better.”

Antarctica does not operate any airports, only runway strips. The Wolf’s Fang Runway is 3,000 metres long, and Captain Mirpuri said grooving is carved along it to assist in the landing.

“It is not easy to spot the runway, but at one point we have to see it, as absolutely no navigation aids exist in WFR and from around 20 miles we must be in visual contact,” he said.

“We flew a textbook approach to an uneventful landing, and aircraft performed exactly as planned. When we reached taxi speed, I could hear a round of applause from the cabin.

“We were joyful. After all, we were writing history.”

The A340 will be used this season to fly a small number of tourists, scientists and essential cargo to the white continent, according to the company.

This marks a major breakthrough for the aviation industry – especially Airbus – as over 90 per cent of visitors to the continent travel by ship due to the lack of infrastructure available.

 

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