The Australian Antarctic Division's Airbus A319 has been performing ground crew and pilot training in Hobart, Tasmania, ahead of an anticipated launch of flights to Antarctica in December.

Following the crew training, the aircraft was due to undergo a number of regulatory checks before initial flights could be launched, says project manager Charlton Clark.

The twinjet will operate during the southern hemisphere summer, transporting Australian researchers from Tasmania to Antarctica. The aircraft will be operated by Sydney-based Skytraders, which already operates two ski-equipped EADS Casa C-212-400s for the Antarctic Division.

Skytraders is leasing the aircraft and has modified it for the role. The aircraft has been equipped with a flexible interior configuration, capable of carrying from 19 to 40 passengers, and up to 4.5t of cargo including personal luggage of 55kg (120lb) per passenger.

The new 4h 30min flight will replace a 10-day sea journey that was previously required to get Australian researchers to Antarctica. The aircraft is expected to fly the route between 10 and 20 times each summer, for a five-year period, dependent on weather conditions.

The A319 will operate to the new 4,000m (13,100ft) Wilkins blue ice runway, which has been specially constructed near Australia's Casey research centre. The team that constructed the runway is due to travel by ship to Antarctica later in October to finalise preparations for the services to begin.

The lease of the A319 and construction of the ice runway is part of a A$46.3 million ($40.9 million) government-funded intercontinental air link project.