Oct 26, 2012

An enduring gateway at the ice end of the world

Antarctica's international runway was only meant to be a temporary solution to the challenge of pitting engineering against Earth's most extreme conditions. Now it's melting, writes journalist Jo Chandler.

The blue ice runway of Wilkins “International” Airport, the hub of Australia’s $46 million Antarctic airlink, is skating-rink slick. The surface is virtually polished by its frostbitten corps of keepers, who use laser-levelling technology to grade and shave the ice, and groom it to keep it snow-free for touchdown.

At the end of delivering an otherwise routine aircraft landing spiel (“please check the seat pockets for any personal items”), the flight attendants on the chartered A319 Antarctic Airbus — standard-issue lipsticked smiles adding a touch of glamour to their extreme weather kit — helpfully remind passengers disembarking at Wilkins to pull on their gloves (lest they leave tender skin fused to the metal hand rails as they head down the stairs) and to make sure their boot chains are correctly fitted (or risk their dignity, a nasty injury, and an immediate return journey to visit a casualty ward in Hobart — it’s happened).

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2 thoughts on “An enduring gateway at the ice end of the world

  1. Andrew McMillen

    Great read Jo, thanks.

  2. Kevin Tyerman

    Thank you, an interesting read.

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