(24 Nov 2021)
 
Hi Fly has made history by landing an Airbus
A340 in Antarctica for the first time.

Never before has an A340 landed on an Antarctic
blue glacial ice runway.

The aircraft will be used this season to fly a
small number of tourists, alongside scientists and essential cargo
to the White Continent.

The Hi Fly 9H-SOL is an A340-313HGW (High Gross
Weight) with a maximum take-off weight of 275 tons. Its
exceptional range and 4-engine redundancy makes it ideal for
this type of remote operation.

Also, as there is no fuel in Wolf’s Fang Runway,
Antarctica, the plane carried 77 tons of fuel.

Hi Fly has made history by landing an Airbus A340 in Antarctica for the first time. Picture by Marc Bow

Captain Carlos Mirpuri, Hi Fly Vice President, and his crew flew the widebody aircraft, from Cape Town to the White Continent and back.
The journey is 2,500 nautical miles, flying for just over five
hours each way.

As his Captain’s log is an adventure in itself, we
have published it in full:

“Captain´s Log – Hi Fly 801 and 802 – 2 November
2021

The crew assembled and departed the hotel in Cape
Town at 5 am local. Transportation took 30 minutes to CPT airport.
Processing through the airport took another 30 minutes and we
arrived at the aircraft at 6 am, with two hours left to our STD
(Scheduled Time of Departure).

Engineers and Ground Operations staff had left the
hotel an hour earlier, so when we arrived at the aircraft
refueling was completed and cargo loading was underway. We
expected 23 passengers, all staff from the customer, and as this
was the first flight of the season, most of the ground support
equipment that we would need in WFR (Wolf’s Fang Runway,
Antarctica) was actually in our cargo compartments. The first two
sorties are solely for the purpose of setting up the operation
down in Antarctica, ahead of the 2021/2022 summer season.

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.

It would be a long day for the crew but the
excitement of participating in such a unique event stood above
anything else.

As always we start with a crew briefing on
arriving at the aircraft. This is not just another flight, there
are specificities related to this very remote operation we would
be conducting, the harsh environment we would face, and the need
to ensure proper protective clothing would be on board.

While cabin checks and catering loading was
undergoing, me and my crew were inspecting the aircraft, checking
its systems, loading the route into the navigation computers, and
briefing the details of our departure.

Passengers arrived 20 minutes before STD. It was
exactly 8 am local time when we pushed back from the gate.
On-time. Every time. This is the Motto at Hi Fly.

We lined up on runway 01 but had to pause for a
moment before launching; I spotted intense bird activity over the
runway and asked the tower to roll the truck in charge of scaring
them out, at eventually they moved out of the way. The last thing
we want is a bird strike and potential engine damage on any
flight. At 8:19 am we were finally airborne. A beautiful morning
in Cape Town and magnificent views.

There is no fuel in WFR. We carried 77 tons of
fuel. 9H-SOL is an A340-313HGW (High Gross Weight) with a maximum
take-off weight of 275 tons.

It is an airplane that delivers, every time.
Robust, comfortable and safe, performs well in this environment.

Its 4 engines redundancy and very long range, make
it the ideal airplane for this type of mission.

The route to WFR was almost direct, after
complying with the instrument departure procedure clearance issued
by CPT air traffic control. Soon we were handed over to
Johannesburg oceanic through CPDLC / ADS, avoiding therefore the
tiring and noisy long range HF communication that dates back to
the 50’s. Digital communication is the norm these days in most air
navigation regions. We only lost data link connection 250 miles
before WFR. But at around 180 miles from destination we could
reach WFR via VHF. It is not an air traffic control, just a person
that has a hand held portable radio that looks after the runway.
And indeed they look very well for its condition.

South of 65 degrees we revert to polar navigation
techniques, and use True heading as reference.

Also a plotting chart is used to ensure we are not
drifting off course. During the route we receive via ACARS
(another digital system of communication), frequent weather
reports from WFR passed to us through our operations in Lisbon.
The guys at WFR have an Iridium Satphone, the only means to
communicate from that part of the Globe. Forecasters do a great
job, and we only launch to Antarctica when the weather meets our
dispatch requirements. But a forecast is a forecast, and when you
fly to the end of the world you need frequent assurance that the
actual weather meets the forecast.

Weather was looking great, and closing to the top
of our descent they are also supposed to pass us runway friction
reports. This is measured by a car properly equipped, that covers
the length of the runway taking measurements every 500 meters. The
frictions were also all above what we considered as minimum, so we
started our descent.

Carrying fuel to cover both ways means we would be
landing at 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.

Our operations department conducted a several
months preparation of this flight and the success of our first
landing is testimony to a job well done.

Even a visit to WFR, on a business jet carrying
scientists, was performed 2 days before our flight, by captain
Antonios Efthymiou. This is considered a C category airport, and
except for this first flight, all crew will have observed a flight
from the cockpit before they operate.

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.

The reflection is tremendous, and proper eyewear
helps you adjust your eyes between the outside view and the
instrumentation. The non-flying pilot has an important role in
making the usual plus extra callouts, especially in the late
stages of the approach.

It is not easy to spot the runway, but at one
point we have to see it, as absolutely no navigation aids exist in
WFR and from around 20 miles we must be in visual contact.

We finally spotted the runway alignment, and
started configuring early, selecting flaps and landing gear to be
fully stabilized 10 miles before the runway. There is also no
visual glide slope guidance, and the blending of the runway with
the surrounding terrain and the immense white desert around, makes
height judgment challenging, to say the least.

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 eventful 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.

The turnaround time was much less time than the
planned 3 hours. Our Flight Ops and ground ops did an impeccable
job and so did our engineers. A true winning team. Equipped for
extreme cold we venture outside, greeted people, seen details and
places of the runway for a better confidence in the system put in
place. All looks good to launch repeatable operations to and from
Antarctica.

Take off was uneventful, as so was the returning
flight. Customer was happy, we were happy. All goals for this
first flight had been met. The event was registered by our
reporter Marc Bow.” END of Captain’s log.


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