The Australian Antarctic Division has signed a 12-year contract with Sydney-based aviation-solutions provider Skytraders to operate two EADS Casa C212-400s on flights within Antarctica.

The deal will see the turboprops provide transport and field support for the Australian Antarctic programme from summer 2004-5. They will operate between the Antarctic bases of Casey, Davis and Mawson, replacing helicopters that ferry personnel between stations. "Environmentally it will remove the need to store caches of fuel in the field as is required for helicopter operations," says Dr Sharman Stone, parliamentary secretary for the Antarctic.

The turboprops will be fitted with hydraulically operated skis developed by Canadian company Kehler Skis and a large rear door and ramp to allow skidoos and quad bikes to be carried. They will feature extra external and internal fuel tanks that will boost range to 4,255km (2,300nm) to support aerial survey work and allow the type to fly from Hobart, Tasmania, to Casey at the beginning of each season.

The turboprop's robustness and short take-off and landing capability makes it particularly suitable for Antarctic conditions, says Stone.

A runway site 25km from Casey station in the Upper Petersen Glacier was selected earlier this year by Skytraders and Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Authority after detailed aerial and ground surveys and an evaluation of weather conditions. In preparation for the C212 flights, a snow cap of compressed snow will be rolled on to the ice at Casey to form a blue-ice runway.

Skytraders was selected last year as the preferred supplier for an air link between Hobart and Casey, operating a Dassault Falcon 900EX between the two sites.

Source: Flight International