Hi Fly, the charter airline which offers large commercial jets for operations, just operated their first A340 aircraft flight to Antarctica, and it is all sorts of cool. Hi Fly identifies itself as a leading widebody aircraft wet lease specialist operating worldwide. In the past, it has offered its jets to airlines to run special operations at times. For instance, SpiceJet’s charter flights to Europe operated by Hi Fly aircraft during the Vande Bharat mission.
Hi Fly heads to Antarctica
Hi Fly flew an Airbus A340-300 aircraft from Cape Town to Antarctica and back earlier in November. On November 2, 2021, Hi Fly’s 18-year old Airbus A340-300, registered as 9H-SOL, landed on a blue glacial ice runway, making it the first time a passenger A340 aircraft ever landed in Antarctica. The plane landed on Wolf’s Fang Runway, which is around 3,000 metres long.
The journey involved flying roughly 2,500 miles in each direction and took a shade over five hours each way. The aircraft spent less than three hours in Antarctica before returning. Hi Fly states that the mission ran as per plan and took even lesser time for the turnaround than initially expected. The flight was operated by Captain Carlos Mirpuri, who is also Hi Fly’s Vice President. The flight brought along tourists, researchers and essential goods to Antarctica.
What was interesting for those who are interested in the backstory of such an operation, is the amount of detail Hi Fly felt comfortable sharing about this mission. The Captain of the flight has published a ‘Captain’s Log‘ which gives you a good amount of detail on the challenges that such a flight involved. While you should read the whole bit here, what stood out for me was this:
The route to WFR was almost direct, after complying with the instrument departure procedure clearance issued by CPT air traffic control. Soon we were handed over to Johannesburg oceanic through CPDLC / ADS, avoiding therefore the tiring and noisy long-range HF communication that dates back to the ’50s. Digital communication is the norm these days in most air navigation regions. We only lost the data link connection 250 miles before WFR. But at around 180 miles from the destination, we could reach WFR via VHF.
South of 65 degrees we revert to polar navigation techniques and use True heading as reference.
Also, a plotting chart is used to ensure we are not drifting off course. During the route we receive via ACARS (another digital system of communication), frequent weather reports from WFR passed to us through our operations in Lisbon. The guys at WFR have an Iridium Satphone, the only means to communicate from that part of the Globe. Forecasters do a great job, and we only launch to Antarctica when the weather meets our dispatch requirements. But a forecast is a forecast, and when you fly to the end of the world you need frequent assurance that the actual weather meets the forecast.
Given that many people talk about aeroplanes flying on their own, it is essential to note that such missions still require careful planning, communications, and some.
Hi Fly also produced a video about the flight. You can look at some of the cockpit footage and other aspects of the flight operations in it. It is all sorts of amazing to see a white aircraft land in a white setting.
Earlier in November 2021, Hi Fly operated a flight from Cape Town to Antarctica, making it the first time an Airbus A340 aircraft landed on the continent. While flights to Antarctica are still infrequent, they happen all the time, but this is one of the first times we get a look into what it takes to make it work.
What do you think of Antarctic flights, and what does it take to make it work?
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