Last week, Portuguese charter airline Hi-Fly made aviation history when they landed an Airbus A340 in Antarctica for the first time. The flight was a unique and partially dangerous journey since crew members had to land an aircraft on an ice runway, as opposed to normal paved runways. This first flight to Antarctica will set the stage for Hi-Fly’s plans in the near future.
In the early morning of November 2nd, 2021, ground workers at Cape Town International airport loaded up Hi-Fly Flight 801 with 77 tons of fuel and several compartments of cargo containing the ground support equipment that the crew would need in Antarctica. Also, onboard the aircraft were the flight crew and 23 passengers from the company White Desert. After preparations were finished, the flight took off around 8am and cruised smoothly on the 5-hour-and-10-minute journey to Wolf’s Fang Runway in Antarctica. Due to the lack of technology to aid a landing onto the icy continent, the approach into Antarctica had to be done completely by the pilots’ visuals. Along with this, the runway consisted fully of compacted blue glacial ice, and the difficulty of locating an ice runway in a landscape of white snow made such a landing much more challenging than usual. The pilots, fortunately, spotted the runway 20 miles ahead of the destination and finished preparing everything for landing 10 miles before. The landing would additionally be heavier than usual, as there was no fuel in Antarctica and the A340 had to carry enough fuel for the way back as well. As the A340 neared the runway, it performed a seamless and uneventful landing and made history as the first plane of its type to reach the freezing continent.
Once on the ground at Wolf’s Fang, the crew of Hi-Fly Flight 801 expected a turnaround time of 3 hours to prepare the A340 for the flight back, but the process turned out to be much quicker, and the crew was ready to return to Cape Town in much less than 3 hours. The flight back lasted 5 hours and 20 minutes and was completed without any problems.
Purpose of Flight
The purpose of Hi-Fly’s flight to Antarctica was to test out the A340 aircraft in icy conditions. Hi-Fly had previously received a contract from a tour company called White Desert’s to operate flights to Antarctica. The White Desert used to bring tourists to Antarctica using a Gulfstream 550, but they wanted to use a larger aircraft that could transport more tourists and bring along scientists who needed to travel to Antarctica. The White Desert also needed a plane that could also carry cargo along with the people. As a result, the company decided to charter the large A340 aircraft from Hi-Fly to operate the flights.
The Airbus A340 aircraft type was selected for this special flight because of its immaculate safety record and redundancy with 4 engines. It also has enough range to complete a round trip from Cape Town to Antarctica without needing to refuel in between. The particular Airbus A340 used on this mission (9H-SOL) was a High Gross Weight (HGW) aircraft with an increased maximum take-off weight of 275 tons. This plane is 19-years-old and was previously owned by 3 other airlines until acquired by Hi-Fly in 2018. The plane, originally designed to carry all passengers, was recently partially converted into a freighter aircraft during the pandemic to transport supplies, but still kept several seats.
Hi-Fly’s flight to Antarctica will be a lasting and memorable event for the A340. As a lasting impact, it may likely pave the way for several more passenger trips in the future.
- Hi-Fly / Marc Bow