Portuguese wet lease specialist Hi Fly has become the first company to ever land an A340 in Antarctica. The flight, piloted by Captain Carlos Mirpuri and his crew, flew from Cape Town to the frozen continent on November 2nd, using 9H-SOL, a 19 year old ‘preighter’ configured to carry both passengers and cargo.
Flying to Antarctica
Hi Fly was contracted to fly a return service from Cape Town to Wolf’s Fang Runway, Antarctica (WFR), for the purposes of setting up base for a tour operator for the winter season. That tour operator is White Desert, a firm that offers once-in-a-lifetime experiences on the continent between November and January each year.
To date, White Desert has mainly used a Gulfstream 550 for its operations, an aircraft with an impressive payload against its flying range. But the firm told Simple Flying previously that it was eyeing the larger A340 for its operations. The aircraft’s increased capacity would allow White Desert to provide transpiration to scientists working on the base as well as their own tourists.
We spotted Hi Fly’s A340 heading down to Antarctica back on November 2nd. The operator has now shared some breathtaking images of its arrival on the blue ice runway, and how the experience was for them.
The first A340
The A340 tasked with the honor of being the first to land in Antarctica was 9H-SOL, a 19-year-old A340-300 that has been with Hi Fly since February 2018. It was originally configured with 36 business and 218 economy seats, but was reconfigured as a ‘preighter’, with 24 passenger seats and lots of space for cargo, amid the 2020 pandemic.
Onboard the flight from Cape Town were 23 passengers, all staff from White Desert, as well as most of the ground support equipment required for the tourist season. The trip would take five hours and 10 minutes down, and five hours 20 minutes back. As there are no refueling facilities at WFR, Hi Fly had to tanker down enough fuel for the return trip too – 77 tons.
Captain Carlos Mirpuri, also vice president of Hi Fly, commented on the trip saying,
“9H-SOL is an A340-313HGW (High Gross Weight) with a maximum take-off weight of 275 tons. It is an airplane that delivers, every time. Robust, comfortable and safe, performs well in this environment. Its 4 engines redundancy and very long range, make it the ideal airplane for this type of mission.”
Mirpuri notes that the weather for the trip was perfect, something that is essential when flying into such a dramatic environment. As the flight approaches the airport, a specialist car runs down the blue ice runway taking measurements, to inform the crew of the conditions on arrival. Mirpuri says that the friction was enough for the quadjet, and so they continued their descent.
One can imagine that the first-ever landing of such a large aircraft was cause for apprehension, but Mirpuri and his team did a textbook job. Turnaround was completed faster than anticipated, and the A340 headed back to Cape Town without issue. The aircraft will now be used to operate tourist flights, transportation for research scientists and to deliver essential cargo to Antarctica.