December 9, 2011 – 8:33 pm, by Ben Sandilands
The tracks left by an A319 at Wilkins in perfect conditions : AAD photo

Australia’s Antarctic jet flights this season to the Wilkins Blue Ice Runway some 70 kilometres by tractor from the Casey station are scheduled to be the least productive since they began on 11 December 2007.

There are only four return flights scheduled for the Airbus A319 between Hobart and Wilkins on 31 January, 7 February, 14 February and 18 February.

It’s not that the runway couldn’t take the jet tomorrow if it had to, but clearly a matter of risk and reliability when planning the large scale movement of personnel and supplies.

By the end of January the peak risk of melt water damage, which played havoc with the ice runway last season, will have passed, leaving a narrow window of opportunity before the storms that precede the next long winter season shut it down.

The first landing of the Australian Antarctic Division’s jet on 11 December 2007: AAD photo

The shortened flight season for the A319 clearly reflects the massive logistical disruptions of 2010-2011 period, when the jet made only two return sorties from Hobart to Wilkins because of channels scoured from the surface by persistent melt water streams.

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