Aviation and tourism history will be made on New Year’s Eve when a Qantas Airbus A380 super jumbo operates a unique sightseeing flight to Antarctica – the first commercial flight by an A380 over the south polar region, and the only aircraft permitted to do so on New Year’s Eve.
The flight, organized by Melbourne-based Antarctica Sightseeing Flights (a division of Australian travel company Croydon Travel) will originate in Sydney and fly via Melbourne to reach Antarctica. Passengers will be over the “ice” at midnight and be the first in the world to see the light of the new year.
The chartered A380 will fly figure-eight patterns above the breathtaking polar terrain for up to four hours before heading back to Melbourne and Sydney.
Two other Antarctic flights are also planned for the southern summer – a second A380 service direct from Sydney on 24 January and a Boeing 747-400 from Melbourne on Valentine’s Day, 14 February. All flights are operated by senior Qantas pilots, with the captain in command having previously operated Antarctica sightseeing flights.
The New Year’s Eve flight to Antarctica will be under the command of Captain John Dennis, who has flown 40 of the 85 previous Boeing 747 flights to the ice. He will be accompanied by two other senior pilots for the inaugural A380 journey.
“Antarctica is the world’s coldest, driest and windiest continent, and the fastest, most comfortable way to view it is from the air, which maximises viewing but leaves not a single footprint,” said Antarctica flights founder Phil Asker, whose company has operated 85 Antarctic flights from Australia since 1994, all with Boeing 747 aircraft chartered from Qantas.
“Not only will we offer the unique opportunity for New Year’s Eve travelers to farewell 2009 and welcome 2010 flying low and slow over the breathtaking Antarctic landscape – we will offer the bonus opportunity to make aviation history aboard the first commercial flight by an A380 to the south polar region,” he said.
Antarctica sightseeing flights do not land in Antarctica. On a typical flight, the first icebergs are seen approximately three hours after passing over Hobart. The most frequently used route then takes the aircraft over the polar icecap, the South Magnetic Pole, the French scientific base at Dumont d’Urville, rugged coastal cliffs, massive glaciers and finally the spectacular Trans-Antarctic Range before returning to Australia.
On board, experts deliver commentary and stories of their own experiences in Antarctica, and stroll through the cabin throughout the flight to speak to passengers.
Videos are screened about Antarctic life and history and a camera on the flight deck gives passengers a pilot’s eye view, via the cabin entertainment screens, of takeoff and landing in Australia and of the polar landscape ahead. There is even a jazz band moving through the cabin during the New Year’s Eve flight.
All flights include two full international meals plus snacks and drinks.
The Qantas Airbus A380 fleet is configured to seat up to 450 passengers with eight different seating options available for Antarctic flights.
Pricing from Sydney and Melbourne for the New Year’s Eve flight ranges from AUD$999 for an Economy Class Centre seat to AUD $6,299 in First Class. Passengers from other Australian destinations, or from overseas, can also buy competitive air fares to Melbourne or Sydney to join the New Year’s Eve flight or one of the other Antarctic sightseeing trips.
The inaugural A380 sightseeing flight from Melbourne to Antarctica on New Year’s Eve will take about 11 ½ hours and cover some 9,500 kilometres, including up to four hours above the Antarctic terrain. Sydney direct flights to Antarctica take up to 12 ½ hours.
Under strictly controlled conditions, the aircraft can descend to a minimum of 10,000 feet above sea level or 2,000 feet above the highest terrain within 180 kilometres. At all times, the aircraft is in contact with the Qantas operations centre in Sydney, and with air traffic controllers in both Australia or the US research base at McMurdo Sound in Antarctica.
Approval has been secured for 19 Antarctica flight routes, with final selection based upon weather details obtained immediately before departure from Australia. During the flight, the captain in command can request a change of course to maximize viewing opportunities.