When it comes to Antarctica, it’s not just the name that’s intimidating. This very adjective is also what defines the harsh and freezing climate of this polar continent. Although at first, the place might seem like a lost frontier on the icy side of the planet, there is enough human presence there to debunk this assumption.
Despite having the coldest temperatures on Earth, Antarctica sees a significant number of people visiting and leaving its shores routinely throughout the year. As per a report, around 4,400 people inhabit this remote region during summers, and around 1,000 inhabit it during winters. This crowd mainly consists of scientists and their crew that temporarily reside on the frozen continent for research purposes.
Since there are people and cargo periodically moving in and out of Antarctica, scheduling flights as per the requirement becomes crucial. But, flying a plane in this corner of the world is anything but easy and hence needs sufficient skill and experience. Here’s a video that shows various kinds of aircraft touching down on this isolated continent.
As a sizeable chunk of people resides in Antarctica at any given time, there is a constant need to maintain supply stocks. And, since nothing edible can grow on the ice-covered grounds, most of the food needs to be imported from elsewhere. Similarly, shipments also have the onus to bring various important equipment and essentials.
Owing to how pivotal flights are, there are about 50 landing strips in Antarctica, out of which 15 have runways suitable for fixed-wing aircraft. However, there are no airports at all on the entire continent.
Challenges of flying a plane in Antarctica
There are some fundamental issues with conducting any sort of plane activity near the Antarctic region. First off, the adverse weather conditions make it very difficult for pilots to navigate around the area. The extreme cold requires planes to keep their anti-icing solutions working to ensure smooth sailing. On the other hand, the poor visibility in Antarctica prevents the pilots to have a clear view of the land and the path they are headed toward.
Moreover, there is little to no infrastructure that can support flying activities in Antarctica. This means no communication with nearby airports, which could prove decisive during an emergency. On top of that, there are strong magnetic fields near the Earth’s poles, which interfere with the already-constrained navigation capabilities of an airplane.
Notable developments in the Antarctic airspace
Despite the odds, many kinds of planes have successfully ventured into the testing tundra. Seasoned pilots regularly travel in and around Antarctica and play the role of the lifeline of the population there.
In recent years, certain plane excursions have raised the bar for aerial possibilities in the region. For instance, Czech Republic’s Smartwings airlines set a record when it landed a Boeing 737 MAX for the first time in Antarctica. The giant aircraft, which weighs around 80,000kg, became the first plane of its kind to touch down on the continent.
Clearly, we are improving when it comes to flying planes in and around Antarctica. With time, the pilots and their aircraft are only going to get better at tackling such extreme climate zones.
Would you ever want to take a flight to Antarctica? Comment down below. Talking about planes, check out this mighty fighter jet that cost the U.S. billions of dollars.