PrivatAir aims for regular Antarctic service after 737 test

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Swiss business charter specialist PrivatAir is looking to open regular services to Antarctica after it conducted a flight to Troll airfield for the Norwegian Polar Institute.

PrivatAir used a Boeing BBJ1 - based on the 737-700 airframe and fitted with 44 business-class seats - for the non-stop flight from Cape Town on 28 November.

Troll airfield, which serves a research station, is located close to the zero-longitude meridian in the Norwegian territory of Queen Maud Land and lies some 235km inland.

It has previously hosted flights by aircraft including Ilyushin Il-76s.

PrivatAir says the 737 landed on an ice runway during the operation which was carried out in co-operation with Oslo-based air charter broker Aircontact.

The carrier says the project intended to demonstrate that a commercial airline could operate such a service, improving efficiency and minimising environmental impact, while maintaining safety standards.

"The preparation that has gone into this flight is immense," says Capt Dennis Kaer. PrivatAir says it wants to look at a "more regular" operation to serve the polar research community.

It says the aircraft was fitted with satcom to provide weather updates to the "point of no return" around 1h from the destination.

New charts were drawn up and the aircraft's take-off and landing performance capability on ice was assessed in conjunction with the powerplant manufacturer. CFM International builds the CFM56 engines fitted on the 737.

PrivatAir adds that pilots were trained on simulators to execute a visual approach to the 3,000m (9,840ft) runway. Weather conditions on arrival were good, it says, and the touchdown was "smooth".

Passengers changed into survival clothing before disembarking. Among those on board was PrivatAir chief Greg Thomas.

Wilkins airfield on the icy continent has been served by Airbus A319 flights from Hobart, as part of the Australia-Antarctica air link programme.