A team of explorers achieved an aviation first on Nov. 2 by landing an Airbus A340 in Antarctica for the first time. It was also the first time "an A340 landed on blue glacial ice," the expedition's pilot, Captain Carlos Mirpuri, said in his captain's log.
The landmark flight was organized by Hi Fly, a Portuguese boutique aviation firm, for whom Captain Mirpuri is also the acting vice president.
Antarctic Airbus A340 landing drew 'attention and anxiety'
The A340 took off on the morning of Nov. 2 at 8 am local time in Cape Town, South Africa before flying 2,500 nautical miles (4,630 km) to Antarctica and then back again. Each of these flights took just over five hours, and the crew spent less than three hours on the southernmost continent itself, meaning they may well have made it back home in time for a late dinner.
It goes without saying that Antarctica is a treacherous place for pilots. The icy continent is home to only 50 landing strips and no airports, meaning pilots have to account for slippery conditions and the weight of their aircraft as it lands on ice.
As Mirpuri pointed out, the A340 weighed a sizable 190 tons when it reached its destination, meaning there was understandable "attention and anxiety" as it came close to touching down on the runway made of blue glacial ice. However, Mirpuri also said that he and his team were confident they "had done [their] homework properly" and that, despite its weight, the A340's "four engines redundancy and very long range, make it the ideal airplane" for their mission. You can watch footage from the daring expedition below.
Tourism of the polar regions may be about to take off
The airliner was chartered by a luxury adventure camp called Wolf's Fang, organized by Antarctica tourism company White Desert. The goal was to bring supplies to the extremely remote location. In his captain's log, Mirpuri explained how the runway had to have special grooves carved into it to allow for more friction as the aircraft landed, which would have otherwise slipped down the icy runway due to its heavy supply cargo.
The pilots also had to wear special eye gear due to the glare coming off the ice as they came in to land. "The blending of the runway with the surrounding terrain and the immense white desert around, makes height judgment challenging, to say the least," Mirpuri explained. Thankfully, Mirpuri and the rest of the A340's crew managed to land safely and they took less than three hours to deliver all of the cargo to the Wolf's Gang team.
Following the historic flight, the same A340 will be used to fly a select few tourists and scientists, along with cargo supplies, to the remote location in Antarctica. Alongside, space tourism spearheaded by the likes of Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic, other wild luxury trips such as deepsea private submersible rides and trips to the polar regions are also starting to take off. In September, for example, a Swedish aviation firm called OceanSky Cruises announced it will take tourists to the North Pole aboard a luxury airship.