Icelandic becomes first regular airline to serve Antarctica

Icelandic 757 Antarctica

Icelandic Boeing 757 at Union Glacier Blue Runway, Antarctica. Source: Special to Leeham News and Comment.

Nov. 27, 2015: Loftleider Icelandic Airlines is the first regular airline to serve the world’s seventh continent, Antarctica.

Icelandic, a sister company to Icelandair and crewed by Icelandair, operated a Boeing 757-200 into the Union Glacier station last week, Nov. 17, on a proving run. The first passenger flight was yesterday. The 757 was configured for 52J/10Y seats; there were 50 passengers. The flight originated in Puntas Arenas, Chile.

The flight was operated for a group of companies that run a camp on the glacier for scientists, mountain climbers going for Antarctica’s highest mountain, Mt Vinson or going to the South Pole one way or another through Adventure Network International (ANI.).  This is a trial operation that may lead to further flights in the coming year during the “Antarctic summer.”

ANI’s announcement is here.

The aircraft landed on a 10,000 ft blue ice runway. Ilyushin IL-76 aircraft have previously been serving the station.

It’s about a 4 1/2 hour flight from Punta Arenas to Union Glacier. Image via Google images.

This is the first (to our knowledge) operation by an airline, operating an off-the shelf airliner to Antarctica (RNZAF uses a 757-200 to McMurdo and Pegasus, Privatair has flown a BBJ to Troll, and Skytraders of Australia operate an A319CJ to Wilkins for the Australian Government). Icelandic’s 757 is Reg. # TF-FIN.

Icelandic/Icelandair has been preparing for the operation for seven months.

13 Comments on “Icelandic becomes first regular airline to serve Antarctica

  1. The thought of landing on a blue ice runway does make me slightly nervous, even though I’m not likely to be on board one of those flights any time soon.
    Björn, do you know if there’s any special training required before you’re allowed to land a plane on blue ice, or is it merely a case of “apply thrust reversers and take your usual required runway length times 20”?
    As you said that Icelandic have been preparing for this for 7 months it seems it’s not quite as straightforward as that…

    Also – how do you taxi at low speeds? I would imagine the plane basically has to be manouevred by an appropriately equipped tow truck once it has come to a standstill?

    • Ice well below freezing isn’t such a bad surface.
      The colder the grippier.
      ( observed low friction surface is due to ice melting locally under pressure and providing lubrication.)

      Then “first airline” is probably a bit overstated.

      I’d assume that during SU times Aeroflot operated some antarctic lift.
      Also see:
      http://www.cbsnews.com/news/air-new-zealand-plans-1st-flights-to-antarcticas-ice-runway-on-regular-passenger-jets/

      ( or did I misunderstand the articles premise ?)

    • Hi Anfromme,

      sorry for late answer. Landing on a slippery runway is no problem as long as there is no strong wind from the side. Low friction at touch down actually makes things easier with any sideslip one has. Then it is a matter of stopping and taxing, as long as the runway is long enough should once again be no problem, you got all the time in the world (which you haven’t on a commercial airport) and can taxi real slow if your ground idle allows it. As Uwe says the colder the grippier. Any wind from the side can make things interesting with the roll out though, you use the brakes very carefully (you only brake the rear wheels, those who have tried handbrake turns on icy roads knows what that does to you trajectory :). Guess your brake anti-lock/skid has to be well tuned and you put it on lowest setting before touch-down).

      The one thing that can be tricky is the visual reference on a too smooth ice runway, there should be a bit on roughness on the surface otherwise you have a hard time judging flare altitude and touchdown. The radar altimeter will help here.

  2. Mandatory question : How many penguin would fit in the gargo hold if they switch to the 321LR ?

    +++

  3. ‘The flight was operated for a group of companies that run a camp on the glacier for scientists, mountain climbers going for Antarctica’s highest mountain, Mt Vinson or going to the South Pole one way or another through Adventure Network International (ANI.). This is a trial operation that may lead to further flights in the coming year during the “Antarctic summer.”’
    Sigh. The scientists/researchers is one thing, but to make it that much easier for tourists to get there doesn’t seem like such a great thing.

    • There has been tourism to Antarctica for decades. Antarctica is nearly twice the size of Australia. It is not for everyone, but the way ANI does it with respect for nature is not a problem.

      • ANI may indeed have the best of intentions, but call me skeptical – I’m one of those who will opine that if you want some place in nature preserved, don’t go there. Look say at what happens with Everest.

  4. Does this plane carry enough fuel (belly tanks?) to make a round trip or does it get refueled at union glacier? If so, how is the fuel brought there? It looks a long way from the liquid ocean for ship delivery.

  5. Its almost certainly got enough fuel and low enough pax and freight to make the round trip an then some. 4.5 hour flight (one way)

    Too far to haul fuel from shore and the quanties an aircraft uses it you could keep a station running for 5 years.

  6. I checked with Icelandic on the fuel questions above. Its 1630nm one way, so the airplane is fueled for a round trip.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.