Loftleider Icelandic 757 Lands at Union Glacier in Antarctica

The landing was a joint partnership between ANI’s parent, Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions (ALE), Loftleidir Icelandic, and NAS Corporation Limited (NAS) and is part of a wider investigation into the potential for utilising conventional passenger airliners in addition to passenger/cargo combination aircraft to support Antarctic operations.

A commercial airliner this week landed for the first time on the blue-ice runway at the Union Glacier Camp in Antarctica as Adventure Network International (ANI) explored the feasibility of using such an aircraft to support its future activities. The Boeing 757-200ER of Loftleider Icelandic Airlines, a sister company of Icelandair, arrived from Puntas Arenas, Chile on November 26, 2015 having completed a proving test flight just over a week earlier.

The landing was a joint partnership between ANI’s parent, Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions (ALE), Loftleidir Icelandic, and NAS Corporation Limited (NAS) and is part of a wider investigation into the potential for utilising conventional passenger airliners in addition to passenger/cargo combination aircraft to support Antarctic operations.

Intercontinental flights for transporting passengers and cargo from Punta Arenas, Chile, to ALE’s main camp at Union Glacier have previously been completed on freighter aircraft such as the Lockheed Hercules L-382G and Ilyushin IL76TD, which provides less passenger comfort but which are tried and tested for blue-ice landings and for use in polar conditions.

ALE transports 400-500 visitors to Antarctica each season on small group Experiences. The majority come to climb Mount Vinson, Antarctica’s highest peak; journey to the South Pole; or visit an emperor penguin colony on the remote Weddell Sea coast. In addition to guided experiences, ALE also provides logistical support to many National Antarctic Programs and scientific research projects.

Its goal, according to company literature, is to deliver “once in a lifetime experiences for each guest, while upholding the highest safety and environmental standards”. By extending the range of aircraft that can be used to support visitors and scientific research it can provide a higher level of comfort to guests, while ALE also notes that it could also expand its evacuation capabilities, further ensuring safe and environmentally responsible operations.

The company has a long history of aviation firsts in the interior of Antarctica. In 1985, its predecessor, ANI, pioneered private flights to the continent for an ascent of Mount Vinson. The company was the first to establish an inland, blue-ice airfield in Antarctica, the first to land wheeled aircraft on a blue-ice runway, and the first tour operator to fly guests to the Geographic South Pole.

Antarctica

It is understood that the landmark flight from Loftleider Icelandic Airlines was operated with a specially modified ‘Executive Jet’ arrangement for the 757. The charter airline recently confirmed it had reconfigured one of its fleet in special Business Class arrangement to support premium charters.

The aircraft entered service in October 2015 for a first VIP around the world tour for the luxury travel company Abercrombie & Kent and which included visits to Easter Island, Papua New Guinea and Madagascar.

A number of modified commercial airliners have been used to transport workers and supplies into Antarctica in recent years including Skytraders of Australia operating an Airbus A319CJ Corporate Jet to the Australian Antarctic Division's Casey Station for the Australian Government and PrivatAir using a Boeing Business Jet to fly to Troll Research Station in collaboration with the Norwegian Polar Institute (NPI). The Royal New Zealand Air Force has also used a 757 to serve both McMurdo and Pegasus stations.

(IMAGES via ALE - Tim Hewette and Adam Ungar)