The first ever jet flight to the Wilkins Blue Ice Runway turned into midnight runner last night for the Skytraders Airbus A319 which has the contract to provide the long awaited direct air supply links to Australian Antarctic territory.

The flight left Hobart at 7pm and landed just before midnight local time at the strip some 70 kilometers from the Casey Station. But it had to do it without a payload or any of its intended passengers drawn from scientists taking part in the “summer” research programs because it hasn’t been given its AOC or air operator certificate by CASA.

The CEO of Skytraders, Norman Mackay, said: “We expect this will be issued this week.”

“However we made this as a private flight, in order to rehearse the operational capability of the jet, which performed perfectly.”

The A319, identical to an ordinary jet except for long range fuel tanks, is crucial for a major logistics exercise by the Australian Antarctic division this summer, breaking forever the chronic inefficiencies of seasonal supplies by ice breakers by bringing the jet age to its bases.  

The small Airbus has already made a number of proving flights from Christchurch to McMurdo Sound, but landing on sea ice instead of on a prepared runway, as the US run strip it built for wheeled jets hasn’t yet been opened for the season.

Skytraders already bases two small ski-equipped turbo-props in Antarctica each year to shuttle scientists between Casey, Mawson and the Davis stations and field locations.