Landing a Boeing 757 on an Antarctic blue-ice glacier
Although I am posting this on the "Airports" section of this blog, today's story is not about an airport in the proper sense of the word, but about a rather unique landing spot: an Antarctic blue-ice glacier.
Union Glacier, in Antarctica, has seen its first Boeing 757 landing, arranged by Antarctic Logistics and Expeditions, an American firm that operates tour and cargo flights to the frozen continent, and executed by Icelandic airline Lofleidir, a subsidiary of Icelandair.
The purpose of the flight was to test and to prove that the blue-ice runway is suitable for Boeing 757 landings.
Loftleidir's Boeing 757 is not the first wheeled aircraft to land on this frozen strip, Hercules and Ilyushyn Il-76 cargo aircraft have been operating regularly between the base camp at Union Glacier and Punta Arenas, at the Southernmost tip of Chile, for quite some time, however, the possibility of landing an airliner at such an exotic location opens up interesting tourism possibilities for this Antarctic outpost.
Compared to the adapted cargo aircraft currently being used, the Boeing 757 takes the level of comfort up a notch when it comes to flying people to and from Union Glacier. Not a minor detail if we consider that Antarctic Logistics and Expeditions runs a number of exclusive tours in the area.
These last typically 6 to 12 days and may include activities such as a flight to the South Pole or climbing Mount Vinson, the highest peak in the Antarctic continent, which is, apparently an activity that draws the interest of quite a few collectors of "unique experiences".
Last year the Union Glacier base, that is under the jurisdiction of Chilean air traffic control for air navigation purposes, saw 13 passenger and 11 cargo flights in total. The Il-76s will continue to fly in supplies, but most likely the passenger flights are going to be operated by standard airliners.
By the way, those interested in ice landings, I would also recommend checking out our article about Russian An-74 airliners landing at the Polar research station Barneo, that is located on drifting ice right on the other side of the planet from Glacier Union!