I read with interest the reports of the inaugural flights from Hobart to Casey, and reflect that it has been a long time coming.

From 1978 through 1985, I was part of, and later led the team within the Antarctic Division that prepared several cabinet submissions aimed at upgrading the overall operation, including a new ship, intercontinenatal air travel, and internal air links.

Not long before the 1983 election, the Fraser government approved a package costed at about $100 million, that was basically the structure now in place, included a new ship, essentially the Aurora Australis (Option B was my suggested name at the time, for that was what it was), the intercontinental air link from Hobart to Casey using RAAF C-130 aircraft, the only option sensibly available at the time, and twin engined aircraft for transport between stations.

The incoming Hawke government put a freeze on all uncommitted expenditure, and the whole process started again.

Good old Dick Smith got involved with his Twin Otter flying in from Perth, but that was never an option for the government, if only because the TW could not make the flight with any payload.

One point that should be made is that the Australian Antarctic Research Expedition (ANARE), as it was known for many years, operated aircraft in Antarctica from the very beginning, with a DC3 based at Mawson for some years, until it was destroyed in a blizzard, and small fixed wing aircraft, deHavilland Beaver, Pilatus Porter, as well as various rotary wing aircraft, supporting summer field operations.

It was always very intrepid… imagine assembling a Pilatus Porter out of the hold of the Nella Dan on a big enough bit of sea ice to provide a take-off so that the aircraft could make it to the runway at Mawson, all within a timeframe of 24 hours, the limit of confidence in the prediction of weather suitable to allow the operation to be completed safely.

Of course, the loss of the Nella Dan focussed the minds on the shipping problem, but here we are, finally seeing the implementation of the aviation package that was agreed by government 25 years ago.

Anyway, better late than never, and I hope the new transport system meets expectations.

Peter Fray

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