On October 5 Air New Zealand is returning to Antartica. The carrier has been invited by Antartica New Zealand to conduct a Boeing 767-300ER route proving flight from Auckland to the blue ice runway at Pegasus Field, McMurdo Sound in Antartica to test the suitability of potential charter services.

If successful the route proving flight could be followed by an additional two services this summer season.

Approximate routing of Air New Zealand’s planned 767 flight from Auckland to McMurdo, and Skytrader’s A319LR services from Hobart to Wilkins.

The Boeing 767 brings a “fundamental change” in capabilities; alongside a higher payload, the 767 is able to operate the approximately 4,500 km route return to Auckland without refueling providing greater operational flexibility.¬†Currently the link is provided by the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF)’s Boeing 757s from Christchurch, however the aircraft can have payload penalties and must be refueled at McMurdo.

No modifications are required on either the aircraft or the ice runway for the services. However, as with other landings jet aircraft landings, the runway will need to be carefully prepared so there is enough granulation to provide friction.

Pegasus Field hasn’t experienced the same pronounced melting issues as Australia’s blue ice runway at Wilkins. Opened in 2008 and served by Skytrader’s Airbus A319’s from Hobart, the Wilkins runway has been unable to operate to its full potential as increasingly long periods of warm weather in the summer season as exacerbated glacial melt causing the runway surface to turn to mushy. In the 2012 season only four flights were operated – all in February – down from the 20 that the¬†Australian Antarctic Division originally planned to operate each year.

Feature image Air New Zealand Boeing 767-319ER ZK-NCJ. Image: Les Bushell.