Aussies Chip Airfield Out of Antarctic Icefield

Environmental minister on passenger flight
By Lucas Laursen,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 11, 2008 9:20 AM CST
Passengers, scientists, government officials and ground crew walk on the purpose-built Wilkins glacial blue ice runway to the first Airbus A319 jet to carry passengers from Hobart, Australia to Antarctica,...   (Associated Press)
camera-icon View 2 more images

(Newser) – 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.