Australian airline operator Rex Airlines gets ambitious and plans to become the next flight operator for the Australian Antarctic Division. In a press release, the company had announced its intention to apply for the Australian Antarctic program. According to media reports, the company responded to a request for information (RFI) from AAD and will prepare for a request for proposals expected in November.
AAD’s goal is to consolidate its flight operations to Antarctica under a single operator. Operations include passenger flights from Australia to Antarctica, domestic Antarctic flights, and helicopter flights. Therefore, to this end, the prospective operator will need a large passenger aircraft, four ski-equipped turboprops, and four twin-engine helicopters capable of operating from the Australian icebreaker RSV “Nuyina.” In addition, the operator should be able to provide a “significant expansion” of unmanned drone capabilities to operate from October to March.
Commenting on the company’s capabilities, Craig Martin, Rex’s Antarctica Project Manager, said, “The complexity and scale of this program requires an operator with a deep understanding of multi-platform aviation and a proven track record in special mission operations.” He further stated, “Rex Group, with its experience in operating a fleet of 150 aircraft, is an unparalleled Australian contender for this role.”
The company’s fleet includes several Boeing 737-800NG and Embraer E190 aircraft, De Havilland Dash 8-400 turboprop aircraft, Saab 340 turboprop aircraft, Beechcraft King Air aircraft and the recently introduced Swiss Pilatus PC24 jet, operating in all continental states and territories.
Currently, the Australian Antarctic Division operates an Airbus A319-115LR leased from Skytraders, which shuttles between Hobart and Wilkins Aerodrome in Antarctica during the austral summer. Thanks to the long range of this type of aircraft, a flight to Antarctica and back is possible without refueling at Wilkins Aerodrome, an important environmental aspect in Antarctica. The route from Hobart to Wilkins is about 3,500 km and takes 4 hours and 30 minutes each way, with the aircraft usually having a 2-hour layover in Antarctica.
Passenger numbers depend on the requirements of the Australian Antarctic program. The aircraft normally carries up to 38 passengers. The flexible configuration of the aircraft allows for the transportation of a combination of passengers and high priority light cargo. The Airbus A319 can also be used for fast medical evacuations, which has proven successful on several occasions in the past. Up to 20 flights can be operated per season. In addition to the passenger aircraft, a Boeing C-17 transporter of the Royal Australian Air Force is also used for the same route for supply flights, meanwhile also during the winter.
Within Antarctica, services are currently provided by Canada’s Kenn Borek Air using ski-equipped Basler BT-67s and De Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otters. The Australian Antarctic Division also uses Airbus AS350 B3 helicopters for a variety of tasks, including ice reconnaissance, transporting cargo from ship to shore and assisting scientists with field work.
Heiner Kubny, PolarJournal
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