Every austral summer a mix of different aircraft land at McMurdo Station, from military jets like the U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III to ski-equipped LC-130 cargo planes flown by the New York Air National Guard and even the Australian Antarctic Division's Airbus A319.
A possible addition to that Antarctic ad hoc fleet may some day include a commercial airliner. An Air New Zealand Boeing 767-300 is scheduled to land in Antarctica on Nov. 13, as part of a feasibility study for using commercial planes to support research on the southern continent.
The Boeing 767-300 will land near McMurdo on a temporary runway built on sea ice. The airplane, which will originate from Auckland, will not carry passengers. However, if deemed successful, the plane may return in mid-February for two additional flights to ferry passengers from McMurdo back to New Zealand.
The test flight is a joint effort between the U.S. Antarctic Program (USAP), which is managed by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and Antarctica New Zealand . The two nations operate year-round stations on Ross Island, about 2,700 miles from New Zealand.
"This is a chance for [Antarctica New Zealand] to offer a new capability to the joint logistics pool," said Paul Sheppard, Operations and Logistics Systems manager for NSF's Division of Polar Programs.