For the first time in aviation history, an Airbus A340 has landed in Antarctica, on an ice runway, no less. The flight was operated by Hi Fly, a widebody aircraft wet lease operator.
The flight was commissioned by Wolf’s Fang, a new project from high-end Antarctica tourism company White Desert. Wolf’s Fang is an upscale adventure camp in Antarctica, and the flight brought much-needed supplies to the resort.
The flight, Hi Fly 801 departed from Cape Town, South Africa on November 2, 2021. It landed about 5 hours later on the same day, after flying 2,500 nautical miles.
The crew was led by Captain Carlos Mirpuri, who is also the vice president and co-founder of Hi Fly.
According to the Captain’s log, which was published alongside Hi Fly’s press release, “The 2500 nm between CPT and WFR would take us 5h10m on the way down, and 5h20m on the return. As this was the very first flight, with limited support on the ground, we planned for a 3h turnaround time in WFR.”
The crew of Hi Fly 801 / 801 Image source: Marc Bow / HiFly.aero
Further details from the log included: That there were 23 passengers on the flight, all from Hi Fly’s client White Desert. The aircraft carried 77 tons of fuel. 9H-SOL is an A340-313HGW (High Gross Weight) with a maximum take-off weight of 275 tons.
The ice runway at the Wolf’s Fang property is designated a C Level airport, despite not technically being an airport. That means that only highly specialized crew can fly there due to challenging conditions.
“Carrying fuel to cover both ways means we would be landing at a maximum landing weight of 190 tons. Add the fact that we are operating to an airfield carved out of blue glacial ice and one easily understands that the first ever Airbus A340 landing there attracted a lot of attention and anxiety. But we at the front office were confident that we had done our homework properly,” the captain wrote on the log.
The captain further explained that landing on ice can be challenging:
“A blue glacial ice runway is hard. It can stand a heavy airplane on it. Its depth is 1,4 kms of hard air free ice. The next important thing is that the cooler it is the better. Grooving is carved along the runway by special equipment, and after cleaning and carving we get an adequate braking coefficient; the runway being 3000 meters long, landing and stopping an A340 that heavy of that airfield wouldn’t be a problem. At least not on paper, as never an A340 landed before in blue glacial ice.”
Image source: Marc Bow / hifly.aero
Hi Fly prepared for this flight for several months, and even two days prior to flight 801 departing, the company flew a business jet to Wolf’s Fang carrying scientists. Their due diligence and preparation paid off as the A340 landed successfully at Wolf’s Fang runway.
“The altimeters in cold weather also suffer from temperature errors, and need adjustments. All this was accounted for. We flew a textbook approach to an uneventful landing, and aircraft performed exactly as planned. When we reached taxi speed I could hear a round of applause from the cabin. We were joyful. After all, we were writing history.”
Hi Fly documented the historic flight on video: