For one thing, it’s beautiful. For another, it’s an airplane that airlines use regularly for commercial customers, meaning you can buy an ordinary airplane ticket, say from Auckland to Sydney, and get on one yourself. If you are lottery-winner lucky – and that includes team members Nick D, Tracy, and Grace, who flew to Scott Base in December – you can ride one for free to Antarctica, business class, with tea service and Tim-Tams the whole way and a blinding view from the window seat.
Normally scientists and staff fly down on military craft, either a C-17 or Hercules, which have been fitted out for both cargo and passengers. The flight is long – five and a half hours on the C-17 and seven hours on the Herc – extremely noisy (some people bring earmuffs to block out the drone), and not very comfortable. The Airbus, however, is quick – five hours – quiet, and extremely comfortable. On Grace’s Airbus flight, spirits in the small group of passengers were particularly high because everyone knew it was a real treat to be on it.
The A-319 was tested in 2007 by the Australian Antarctic Division to see if a passenger plane could successfully land on the continent, and it passed the test.
The Airbus that nzTABS team members rode was a thank-you loan from the Australian Antarctic Division for help that Kiwis and Americans had given them earlier in the season for some emergency medical evacuations.
A-319 Stats File
Crew: 2 Pilots
Passengers: 124 (max 142)
Lifting Capacity: 13,200 kg
Powerplant: 2 CFM56-5 or IAE V2500
Cruising Speed: 833 kmh
Range: 6,800 km