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Airborne tourism in the Antarctic

  • Charles Swithinbank (a1)

Abstract

There are two classes of airborne tourism in Antarctica: overflights without landing, and fl ights including landing. The earliest overflight was in 1956, but there were no regular flights until 1977, when Qantas and Air New Zealand began overflights with wide-bodied aircraft. A crash on Mount Erebus in 1979 that killed 257 people drew attention to the absence of effective planning, air traffic control, and rescue services. Landings began in the South Shetland Islands in 1982, when C-130 aircraft of Fuerza Aerea de Chile brought passengers from Punta Arenas. Since 1983, tourists have been accommodated in a Chilean government hostel. Flights to the interior began in 1984 when climbers were taken to the Sentinel Range by ski-equipped aircraft. Unmodified transport aircraft have been used since 1987, making wheel landings on naturally occurring bare ice in the Heritage Range. Tourists were taken from this site to the South Pole in 1988 by smaller, ski-equipped aircraft. Owing to the lack of conventional airfields in Antarctica, the future of intercontinental operations may depend on the development of additional airfields on bare ice. There are many possible sites. Most are near the periphery of the continent but some are in high latitudes, one only 300 km from the South Pole. A few of these will allow direct flights of unmodified passenger aircraft from South America, South Africa, Australia, or New Zealand. The possibility of 300 day-trippers stepping onto the ice from a Boeing 747 raises a variety of safety and environmental concerns. The challenge to the Antarctic Treaty System will be to reconcile the interests of governments, scientists, airlines, tour operators, tourists, and environmentalists.

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References

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