Too Warm for Antarctic Flights

Flights between Australia and Antarctica have been grounded so far this summer due to warm weather on the icy continent.

The air service between Hobart and the Wilkins Aerodrome near Casey Station usually starts mid-December but has not begun because of safety concerns at the runway.

Ice temperatures have been above minus five degrees, making it unsafe for planes to land.

The director of the Australian Antarctic Division, Lyn Maddock, says the situation is being monitored daily but she did not know how long the higher temperatures would persist.

“Safety is paramount and flights will not occur until the runway is cleared for landing,” she said.

No scientific programs have had to be cancelled and until the runway is reopened, flights from Hobart are being diverted to the US base McMurdo.

From there scientists will travel to Casey on smaller planes.

“We’ve only had one scientist unable to join his project so that’s pretty good and we build a certain amount of capacity to deal with contingencies into our program so that when these sort of things happen we can adjust the program,” she said.

The air operations of other countries have also been affected by the warm weather.

Ms Maddock says the Wilkins Aerodrome is still the best drop-off location even though the weather is unpredictable.

“That was seen as by far the most preferable location for us in terms of it being relatively close to one of our major stations,” she said.

“It’s about 70 to 80 kilometres from Casey. Any further than that you start getting problems in relocating people.”

The Division schedules up to 15 flights a season from Hobart.

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