For the first time in history, an Airbus A340 landed in Antarctica. The groundbreaking Hi Fly flight took place earlier this month and flew from Cape Town to Antarctica and back.
The route over 2 500 nautical miles flying for just over five hours each way, will soon fly with a small number of tourists, alongside scientists and essential cargo. According to Hi Fly, the aircraft was carefully chosen to perform well in this extreme environment.
Hi Fly vice president Carlos Mirpuri, who also led the crew, wrote on his Captain's log on the website that there were specifics that had to be considered in plotting safe landing in this very remote operation.
He said they had to factor in the harsh environment and ensure proper protective clothing would be on board.
He shed some light on the runway.
"A blue glacial ice runway is hard. It can stand a heavy airplane on it. Its depth is 1.4 kms of hard air-free ice. The next important thing is that the cooler it is, the better. Grooving is carved along the runway by special equipment. After cleaning and carving, we get an adequate braking coefficient; the runway being 3 000 metres long, landing and stopping an A340 that heavy of that airfield wouldn’t be a problem. At least not on paper, as never an A340 landed before in blue glacial ice," he explained.
Mirpuri said it wasn't easy to spot the runway.
"We finally spotted the runway alignment and started configuring early, selecting flaps and landing gear to be fully stabilised 10 miles before the runway. There is also no visual glide slope guidance. The blending of the runway with the surrounding terrain and the immense white desert around makes height judgment challenging.
"The altimeters in cold weather also suffer from temperature errors and need adjustments. All this was accounted for. We flew a textbook approach to an uneventful landing. The 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," he added.
IOL Travel reported this month that South Africans can travel by private jet to Antarctica for around R800K. The once-in-a-lifetime trip, hosted by tour company White Desert, will take place throughout December 2021 and January 2022.