Museum director charters flights to the Southern Lights

 All Pictures courtesy of Ian Griffin

All Pictures courtesy of Ian Griffin

The Aurora Borealis is among the most magnificent sights nature has to offer.

Some airlines have even organized special flights for those interested in seeing this phenomenon from a privileged vantage point.

What many in the Northern Hemisphere (where, by the way, most of the planet's population happen happens to live), do not know is that the same phenomenon happens also in Southern latitudes, where it is known as Aurora Australis (obviously!).

After having had the chance to fly once on NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, an airborne observatory mounted on a Boeing 747SP, Ian Griffin, director of the Otago Museum in New Zealand (an institution that features in this Antarctica-themed Air New Zealand safety video) had the idea to organize charter flights to observe the Aurora Australis.

After some time pondering the idea and with some support from the managers at Dunedin airport, he posted a question on a Facebook group of people interested in the Aurora Australis phenomenon. He got some 300 positive replies, which led him to start planning for it seriously. After discussing with a local travel agent and crunching some numbers they came up with the idea of offering 134 seats (an Air New Zealand Boeing 767, but only window seats, to guarantee the best view of the Southern Lights) for between NZ$4,000 (US$ 2,675 approx.) on business class and NZ$2,000 (US$1,330 approx.) on economy.

The flight sold out in four days!

The flight had to balance some scientific considerations, such as the choice of dates and flight region, with the operational requirements of the Boeing 767 (ETOPS primarily) in order to get the best chance to see the Aurora Australis.

Some enthusiasts even designed a mission patch: "Flight to the Lights".

 All pictures courtesy of Ian Griffin

All pictures courtesy of Ian Griffin

"The first flight was from Dunedin on 23rd March 2017. So far there have been 2 flights, the second was 22nd March this year from Christchurch. Dunedin was chosen as it’s my hometown. Luckily at the time Air NZ still had Boeing 767 aircraft which could land in Dunedin and fly to the auroral oval. Unfortunately the 767 fleet was retired soon after our flight so this year we had to fly from Christchurch in a Dreamliner (nice big windows!)" he explains

 All pictures courtesy of Ian Griffin

All pictures courtesy of Ian Griffin

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The flights are open to everyone willing to pay the fare, of course. Bookings are managed by Orbit Travel, of Dunedin, New Zealand.

As an extra bonus, passengers on the Southern Aurora flight experienced three separate calendar days during the +8h flight, as the aircraft crossed the international date line as well.