A new runway carved from glacial ice and leveled with lasers will permit regular passenger flights from Australia to Antarctica for the first time, reports the Sydney Morning Herald. An Airbus A319 carrying Aussie scientists and dignitaries made today's inaugural landing on the 2.5-mile-long Wilkins runway, named after Sir Hubert Wilkins, who made the first flight over the ice cap 79 years ago.
"It means we'll spend very much less down time sitting on a ship getting down there,” said the Antarctic research team's chief scientist. The 4-hour flights are open only to researchers, but the inaugural flight included Australia’s environmental minister, who said the runway “opens up a whole new chapter in our scientific effort on the frozen continent." Several other countries with research stations there, including the US, have had air access for years.