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Antarctica to get hard runway


The Australian Government has announced that it intends to construct a paved runway near Davis research station in Antarctica, the first surfaced airstrip on the continent.  The new facility, which will be available year-round, will be available to complement the country’s s summer-only air link to the ice runway at Wilkins Aerodrome, inland from Casey research station.  The development will provide greater access to Davis research station and the surrounding region, which are currently only accessible during the Austral summer by icebreaker or internal flights using small aircraft.

The government claims that a second inter-continental connection will increase the scale and efficiency of Australia’s Antarctic Program, providing additional access to the continent and enhancing its ability to undertake world class scientific research.

The Australian Antarctic Division identified a suitable site for the runway in the Vestfold Hills region of East Antarctica, approximately 3.7 miles (6km) from Davis research station, after three field seasons of geotechnical and environmental investigations.  The airstrip surface will be almost 3,100 miles (5,000km) from Hobart, involving a flight of around six hours.  It will also be 870 miles (1,400km) from Australia’s first intercontinental ice runway at Wilkins Aerodrome, near Casey research station.  The length of the hard surface will be 8,858ft (2,700m), sufficient for many large commercial aircraft.

The new runway at Davis will provide more reliable access to Antarctica throughout the year, which is currently difficult to reach in winter when temperatures drop to −40°C (-40°F) .  The operating model for the new air link has yet to be determined, but it is expected that the normal flying season over the Austral summer will be extended with the capability to access Davis research station outside this period.

The project will be subject to extensive environmental and other approval processes. These will ensure the project meets the requirements of the Antarctic Treaty (Environment Protection) Act 1980 and the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

The team behind Airports of the World has recently produced the 100-page special publication Extreme Airports.  This new bookazine includes an in-depth look at McMurdo Station, another airfield complex on Antarctica.  Copies are available from some newsagents and supermarkets, or the Key Publishing Shop.

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