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Media Release
Senator the Hon Robert Hill
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Minister for the Environment and Heritage

1 September 1999

ANTARTIC AIR LINK A STEP CLOSER


A major Commonwealth study of air transport options between Australia and Antarctica has found that a direct intercontinental air link is feasible and would significantly benefit Australia's Antarctic program.

The report, released today by Environment Minister Robert Hill, lists twelve options as feasible and efficient, and recommends that four of these be subject to further practical investigations and market testing through a competitive tender process. The four shortlisted options are based on use of ice and snow landing surfaces.

"The Government's principal concern is to increase the efficiency of our science program by getting scientists and other personnel to and from Antarctica more efficiently than we currently do," Senator Hill said.

"This study opens up the prospect of rapid and more flexible deployment of research teams to and within Antarctica, and greatly improved capacity to support important airborne and remote area research in Antarctica.

"It is proposed that existing areas of blue ice* or snow are used as landing areas instead of the alternative of constructing a conventional gravel runway. These ice and snow airstrips would be located well away from wildlife habitats, minimising the potential effects of air traffic on seals, birds and vegetation," Senator Hill said.

The study recommends that transport aircraft, such as the C130 Hercules, be used for intercontinental flights from Hobart to Antarctica, with smaller ski-equipped aircraft providing the link to other stations and support for airborne and remote area research.

Three of the intercontinental options have wheeled aircraft landing on blue ice near Davis or in the Bunger Hills west of Casey, and one option has ski-equipped Hercules landing on a snow skiway near Casey. The study recommends further field surveys, glaciological observations and weather monitoring in Antarctica to confirm the suitability of the runway sites, and further examination of ski-equipped aircraft availability and acceptability.

Senator Hill has accepted the report's recommendations and asked the Australian Antarctic Division to carry out the proposed investigations during the coming summer.

"A final decision to proceed with air transport to Antarctica will follow completion of the investigations next summer and analysis of the cost of the service based on a competitive commercial pricing process.

"A full environmental impact assessment in accordance with Commonwealth legislation and Antarctic Treaty obligations will be undertaken before any final decision," Senator Hill said.

* Blue ice: Glacial ice which is very dense and has little or no snow cover. Appropriate areas can support heavy wheeled aircraft operations with little or no preparation.
Skiway: An area of snow that has been levelled for use by aircraft equipped with skis.

More information:
The Executive Summary of the Antarctic Air Transport Scoping Study is attached to this news release.
The full text of the study can be found on the Web at http://www.aad.gov.au/southbound/airtransport/index.html

Media contact:
Canberra - Rod Bruem (02) 6277 7640 or 0411 128 582.
Australian Antarctic Division: Tony Press (Director), (03) 6232 3200.

The address to which any comments on the report should be sent is:

The Director
Australian Antarctic Division
Channel Highway
KINGSTON TAS 7050

Commonwealth of Australia