The first paved runway in Antarctica is one step closer to reality. Australia is moving ahead with plans to build a 2,700-metre-long paved runway near its Davis research station. The Australian government has now put out to tender for the multi-million dollar project
It will be a tricky construction task. In addition to the construction of the runway and the terminal facilities, the logistical issues of transporting equipment, materials and crew to the construction site remain. “If it goes ahead, it will be the most significant infrastructure project in Antarctica to date, and it is unprecedented in scope and complexity,” Kim Ellis, director of the
A remote paved runway between ice and penguins
The Vestfold Hills site was based on the criteria of structural feasibility, environmental aspects and proximity to areas of scientific interest.
Up to 100 people live and work in the immediate vicinity of the proposed paved runway. The nearby Davis Research Station is located at 68° 34″ 36″ S, 77° 58″ 03″ E.
The Australian Antarctic Division describes the site as predominantly ice-free and covers an area of about 410 square kilometres between rocky hills. The paved runway and terminal facilities would occupy about two square kilometers.
Australia has extensive interests in Antarctica and is one of seven nations with territorial claims. Australia’s territorial share accounts for 42.4 percent of Antarctica’s landmass. But Australia has never had a year-round runway on the frozen continent.
An alternative to a blue ice runway 1,400 kilometres away
About 13 years ago, a blue ice runway was opened at Wilkins Aerodrome near Casey Research Station. It operates every year between October and March and is used for Airbus supply flights from Hobart, Australia’s destination airport for Antarctic flights.
A specially modified A-319 performs these flights. With only 38 passengers, the aircraft can fly to Antarctica and back without refueling. Wilkins also hosts some military aircraft that are up to the conditions.
But ice runways have their limits. The new paved runway near Davis Station will provide more reliable access to Antarctica throughout the year. In addition, the Wilkins Aerodrome is relatively close to 70 kilometres from the Casey Australian research station, but 1,400 kilometres from Davis and even further from the Mawson research station.
“The proposed airfield will give australia’s Antarctic program a significant boost in capacity and revolutionise scientific research on the continent. “An aviation capacity that regularly and efficiently brings scientists and instruments to Antarctica would offer unprecedented opportunities.”
The new runway will reduce insulation
Flights between Hobart and the new runway would take about six hours for the 4,838-kilometre route. This is a significant improvement on the current twice-yearly replenishment visits of an icebreaker. These can only be carried out subject to sea ice conditions. Ski-equipped aircraft also fly in from nearby Antarctic stations and are currently helping to connect Davis station to the outside world.
According to reports, much of the new runway in Australia will be prefabricated and transported by ship to the site. This includes 11,500 cement elements, each weighing 10 tonnes. These must be installed in advance before other infrastructure such as terminals, lighting and all the other equipment that makes up an aerodrome function is introduced. It will be a difficult job.
As other countries increasingly show interest in the region, Australia is seeking to step up its claims in Antarctica. The Australian government says the new paved runway would strengthen Australia’s leadership, long-term interests and scientific activities in the region.
Heiner Kubny, PolarJournal / Simple Flying