Flight to Antarctica
(Photo: Marc Bow / Hi Fly)
  • An Airbus A340 weighing 190 tons landed on Antarctica’s runway carved out of blue glacial ice on 2 November.
  • Not much was known about the flight from Cape Town International Airport to Antarctica’s Wolf’s Fang Runway.
  • But now, a captain’s log detailing the flight and the record-setting landing has been made public.
  • The aircraft is expected to carry scientists, cargo, and tourists to the White Continent in the summer.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

For the first time in history, an Airbus A340 has successfully landed in Antarctica. The aircraft departed from Cape Town earlier in November and is set to carry tourists to the White Continent in the upcoming summer season.

With a maximum take-off weight of 275 tons, the Airbus A340 is one of the heaviest aircraft to land on Antarctica’s runway carved out of blue glacial ice. The record-setting flight, operated by Lisbon-based Hi Fly, which specialises in the supply of commercial aircraft on wet lease, took place on 2 November.

And although the A340-313HGW (High Gross Weight) 9H-SOL was picked up on flight monitoring platforms at the start of the month, with its flight path attracting attention, Hi Fly had been mum on the operation, according to Simple Flying.

Flight to Antarctica
(Photo: Marc Bow / Hi Fly)

Flight-tracking service RadarBox.com showed that 9H-SOL conducted two flights from Cape Town to Antarctica, the first on 1 November and the second on 4 November.

Hi Fly revealed the purpose of the flights on Monday, complete with a captain’s log detailing the trip and the preparation that went into making the landing a success.

Flight to Antarctica
(Photo: Marc Bow / Hi Fly)

The inaugural flight departed Cape Town International Airport at 08:00 with 23 passengers on board. “A beautiful morning in Cape Town and magnificent views,” noted Carlos Mirpuri, Hi Fly vice-president, and the flight’s commander.

It took 9H-SOL around 5 hours to travel the 2,500 nautical miles – or 4,630 kilometres – to Wolf’s Fang Runway (WFR) in the northern region of Antarctica. Wolf’s Fang Runway is 3,000 metres long and 60 metres wide, with aircraft landing on hard air free ice that’s around 1.4 kilometres deep.

Flight to Antarctica
(Photo: Marc Bow / Hi Fly)

“Carrying fuel to cover both ways means we would be landing at maximum landing weight of 190 tons,” explained the captain’s log.

“Add the fact that we are operating to an airfield carved out of blue glacial ice and one easily understands that the first ever Airbus A340 landing there attracted a lot of attention and anxiety.”

Flight to Antarctica
(Photo: Marc Bow / Hi Fly)

The reflection off Antarctica’s white surface was described as “tremendous” and requiring proper eyewear to help the pilot adjust between the outside view and the instrumentation.

“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 [32 kilometres] we must be in visual contact.”

Flight to Antarctica
(Photo: Marc Bow / Hi Fly)

The Airbus A340, carrying enough fuel to cover the journey from and back to Cape Town, landed at around 190 tons.

“We flew a textbook approach to an eventful 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,” noted the captain’s log.

Hi Fly didn’t reveal its Antarctic client but explained that the “aircraft will be used this season to fly a small number of tourists, alongside scientists, and essential cargo to the White Continent.”

White Desert, which operates luxury tourist expeditions to Antarctic with a Gulfstream G550 jet, recently confirmed that it was looking to share an Airbus A340 with scientists and cargo.  

White Desert offers single day adventures – dubbed “The Greatest Day” – priced from $14,500 (almost R230,00) to 8-day trips to the South Pole to see Emperor Penguins priced from $83,000 (R1.3 million).

Its newest offer is a New Year’s Eve experience which allows travellers spend the last day of 2021 – and the first day of 2022 – at one of White Desert’s luxury camps in Antarctica. This costs around $27,500 (R433,000).

(Compiled by Luke Daniel)

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