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Australia to build new paved runway on Antarctica

written by australianaviation.com.au | May 22, 2018
The Davis research station and surrounding regions. (Australian Antarctic Division/David Barringhaus)
The Davis research station and surrounding regions. (Australian Antarctic Division/David Barringhaus)

Australia plans to build a paved runway on Antarctica, which would allow for better access to the continent during the winter months.

The proposed runway would be located near the Davis Research Station, Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop and Minister for Energy and the Environment Josh Frydenberg said in a joint statement.

“Access to Antarctica in winter is difficult and rare, with temperatures dropping to minus 40°C at Davis station,” the pair said on May 18.

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“The new runway will complement Australia’s existing summer-only ice runway at Wilkins Aerodrome, and will provide more reliable access to Antarctica throughout the year, improving our ability to conduct year-round, world-class scientific research and respond to emergencies.”

A map showing the location of the proposed runway. (The Davis research station and surrounding regions. (Australian Antarctic Division)
A map showing the location of the proposed runway. (The Davis research station and surrounding regions. (Australian Antarctic Division)
A geophysicist monitors a seismic test at the runway site. (Andrew Garner/Australian Antarctic Division)
A geophysicist monitors a seismic test at the runway site. (Andrew Garner/Australian Antarctic Division)
The site of the proposed new runway near Australia’s Davis research station. (Australian Antarctic Division/Andrew Garner)
The site of the proposed new runway near Australia’s Davis research station. (Australian Antarctic Division/Andrew Garner)

The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) flew C-17 Globemaster to Wilkins in 2015 as part of proof-of-concept flights to validate the use of the heavy transports to Antarctica.

It was the first time the RAAF had flown missions to the Australian Antarctic Territory since 1963.

antarctic crop
A pallet of building materials is unloaded from the C-17 at Wilkins. (AAD/Glenn Jacobson)
A Hägglunds snow vehicle is driven off a C-17A Globemaster at Wilkins Aerodrome.
The brand-new Hägglunds vehicle is driven off the C-17 at Wilkins. (Defence)

The US Air Force also operates C-17s between Christchurch, New Zealand and Pegasus Field near McMurdo Station.
Other aircraft to have been used to Antarctica included the Skytraders-operated Airbus A319 airlink.

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An Airbus A319 at Wilkins. (Chris Crerar/Australian Antarctic Division)
An Airbus A319 at Wilkins. (Chris Crerar/Australian Antarctic Division)

In 2017, the RAAF has conducted an air-to-air refuelling over the sub-Antarctic region for the first time to deliver about 10,500kg of cargo to researchers Davis Research Station. Halfway through the journey from Melbourne Avalon Airport to Antarctica, it was refuelled by a KC-30A Multi-Role Tanker Transport.

A Royal Australian Air Force C-17A parachutes supplies for Australia's Davis Research Station on Antarctica. (Australian Antarctic Division/Barry Becker)
A Royal Australian Air Force C-17A parachutes supplies for Australia’s Davis Research Station on Antarctica. (Australian Antarctic Division/Barry Becker)


VIDEO: The air drop, as seen on this video on the Australian Antarctic Division’s YouTube channel.

The ministers’ statement said investigations into year-round aviation access started in 2016, including $10 million spent to score options and for preliminary site investigations.

It said the cost of the new runway would be determined through a detailed business case.

“As a leader in Antarctica, Australia is committed to best practice environmental stewardship and the project will be subject to extensive environmental and other government approval processes,” the ministers said.

“These assessments will be transparent, consultative and rigorous, including to meet the requirements of the Antarctic Treaty (Environment Protection) Act 1980 and the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

“Australia is a strong supporter of the Antarctic Treaty System and the runway will support our international partnerships.”

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16 Comments

  • Deano969

    says:

    Better get it done before the Chinese build one in our territory

  • Rodney Marinkovic

    says:

    Hoppe no to be build any military facility on pure soil of Antartica. Not to folow all redy Arctic under military tension. Antartica is tru land of peace and stay as it is. ✨????????✨
    Rodney

  • Adrian P

    says:

    So what happened to leave nothing behind in Antarctica?
    What ever went in came out.

  • Bill

    says:

    With the amount of development down in Antarctica, soil is all that might be left to build on in a few decades!

  • South Pole

    says:

    To Adrian P above……
    Don’t see any asphalt or concrete in picture in this article, of Wilkins Base runway, as it’s ice.
    Davis Base runway will be the same.
    Having been to, & flown over all of Australia’s territory there, it’s just ice.

  • Helmut

    says:

    Will it have an igloo for an engine change?

  • Evan S

    says:

    To South Pole – The Davis Base runway will be paved not ice as the article states. The Vestfold Hills adjacent to Davis is one of the approx. 5% of Antarctica that is ice free which is why it has been chosen for the paved strip. Flight times /distances from Avalon (or even WA) to Davis will require in-flight refuelling so this will be for direct flights using military aircraft only and also for Intra-continental flights from Wilkes and other Antarctic bases.
    Rodney – The Antarctic Treaty prevents the militarisation of Antarctica by all signatory nations, this does not prevent the use of military support such as aircraft and vessels to provide support. The ADF have previously provided support including hydrography services, amphibious vehicles and air transport.
    Deano969 – The Antarctic Treaty allows bases to be built by any signatory nation anywhere as the claims of Territory by different nations are not formally recognised and in some cases overlap (particularly under Sth America)..

  • Trogdor

    says:

    @South Pole – the article actually says that the new runway will be paved, unlike the Wilkins ice-runway. Still a good development in case of emergency if nothing else.

  • Patrickk

    says:

    It seems to be pretty solid rock so easy to level and so if no ice (as in the picture) it can be a gravel runway as well. No need for asphalt or concrete I suspect.

  • Ben

    says:

    More reliable access?? They do realise how bad winter is down there right? Even C17’s would struggle in that cold, not to mention the wind and low vis! Or are we going to install a CAT3C ILS as well?

  • Col Webb

    says:

    Patrick says it can be a gravel runway with no need for asphalt or concrete!!!
    Has he thought about the horrendous damage that a fragment of gravel can cause if ingested into a jet engine? Those engines are like super-powerful vacuum cleaners and can suck in all sorts of debris if it
    within close proximity.

    • Patrickk

      says:

      Col if I am not mistaken but the C17 is gravel rated

  • Murray

    says:

    Will they be backloading rubbish out of Antarctica? Do they do that now?

  • random

    says:

    @Ben
    Time to keep your powder dry mate.
    I suspect someone has probably had a look at the weather at least a couple of times before jumping on this, and the USAF regularly puts C17 into Antarctica already, so the aircraft would seem to be already proven as sufficiently robust.

  • Christopher

    says:

    Silly question but can Qantas, Air New Zealand & LATAM land there in an emergency, if it’s on their route between South America & Oceania ??

  • Jakob

    says:

    Sorta want them to make it the longest runway in the world

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