It was a historical moment and a world-first for Hi Fly after successfully landing an Airbus A340 in Antarctica. Captain Carlos Mirpuri and his crew flew the widebody aircraft from Cape Town to the White Continent and back. The journey was 2,500 nautical miles for over five hours each way.
The aircraft, which has never landed on an Antarctic blue glacial ice runway before, will be used this season to fly a small number of tourists, alongside scientists and essential cargo to Antarctica.
According to a statement, Hi Fly 9H-SOL is an A340-313HGW (High Gross Weight) with a maximum take-off weight of 275 tons. It boasts an excellent safety record and was chosen to perform well in an extreme environment. The exceptional range and 4 engine redundancy also makes it ideal for this type of remote operation.
The crew assembled and departed the hotel in Cape Town at 5am local, while Engineers and Ground Operations staff had left the hotel an hour earlier, so upon arrival at the aircraft, refuelling was completed and cargo loading was underway. At 8:19am the aircraft was finally airborne, coupled with magnificent views of Cape Town. A total of 23 passengers were expected while they carried 77 tons of fuel.
A blue glacial ice runway is hard, Captain Carlos Mirpuri explains. Its depth is 1,4 km of hard air free ice, and grooving is carved along the runway by special equipment.
There is also no visual glide slope guidance, and the blending of the runway with the surrounding terrain and the immense white desert around, makes height judgment challenging, to say the least. The altimeters in cold weather also suffer from temperature errors, and need adjustments.
All goals for this first flight had been met and was registered by reporter Marc Bow.
Watch it here:
Picture/s: Marc Bow