Smartwings became the first carrier in the world to land a Boeing 737 MAX in Antarctica.
The aircraft, with tail number OK-SWB, transported Norwegian polar explorers to the Troll Airfield “airport”.
Currently, the aircraft is on its way back. Fligtradar24.com pointed out that Smartwings is the first carrier to land this type of aircraft at the Antarctic airport. For Smartwings, this is reportedly the first ever landing in Antarctica.
Employees of the Norwegian Polar Institute were aboard the aircraft, which also carried supplies for polar explorers. According to Flightradar24.com, the plane flew from Oslo to Prague, then from Prague to N’Djamena, the capital of Chad. After a stopover, the aircraft continued to Cape Town, South Africa. It landed at Troll Airfield after a six-hour flight from South Africa.
The aircraft spent approximately two hours in Antarctica before heading again to Oslo, Norway via Cape Town. The Smartwings crew received continuous in-flight weather and airport availability reports via data link and satellite phone. A 3,000 meter long and 60 meter wide ice-covered runway is used for landing and take-off. The ice layer was measured and analyzed before the flight. The surface has been specially treated and the braking effect has been measured in advance by the Norwegian Polar Institute staff to ensure that the take-off and landing could be carried out in accordance with the aircraft manufacturer’s regulations and standards, while maintaining all safety parameters.
Flight planning months in advance
Landing on a glacier requires a highly specialized crew, which consisted of three experienced Smartwings captains: Tomas Nevole, Jan Stastny and Lubomir Malik. “You need to prepare thoroughly for such a flight. The preparation took many months, the flight and landing went smoothly,” says Tomáš Nevole, Captain and Flight Director of Smartwings.
The captains had to undergo training to familiarize themselves with the area of operation and the airport. All crew members underwent Arctic survival training. The aircraft was equipped with polar survival kits including polar clothing for the crew, in addition to carrying some essential spare parts on board.
The weather was closely monitored for five days before departure based on forecasts from the German meteorological institutes DWD and AWI, which have information resources in Antarctica. For this type of operation, at least one dispatcher is assigned to the Smartwings control room, who constantly monitors and evaluates the airport and weather conditions and is in contact with the crew in case of changes. During the flight, the technical condition of the aircraft is also evaluated at the Smartwings technical department in Prague via an automated data link.
The airport was built in 2005 and is completely on ice. The average temperature in the area is around 25 degrees Celsius below zero, in the summer the temperatures approach 0 °C. Landing at the airport is by visual approach without the aid of instruments. The flight was chartered by Aircontact to transport members of the Norwegian Polar Institute to their base. The Troll Research Station operated by the Norwegian Polar Institute is located 235 kilometers offshore in the eastern part of the Princess Martha Coast in Queen Maud Land, Antarctica, and is dedicated to environmental and climate monitoring, scientific research and mapping.
The runway itself is built on a glacier at an altitude of 1,232 meters. No back-up airport can be planned in place of Troll Airfield. All the necessary equipment is available, including adequate fire-fighting equipment, approach charts created specifically for this airfield and flight, and experienced staff under the direction of Sven Lidström of the Norwegian Polar Institute, who is responsible for Troll Airfield.
As this is an isolated airfield with no other landing options within range, it was necessary to obtain an assessment and approval from the Civil Aviation Authority of the Czech Republic for the use of Troll Airfield. Smartwings’ next flight to Antarctica is expected to take place at the end of February 2022.
Dnes v ranních hodinách jsme s Boeingem #737MAX přistáli na Troll Airfield v severním cípu Antarktidy. Stroj tohoto typu zde přistál vůbec poprvé. Let si objednala společnost Aircontact pro dopravu členů Norského polárního institutu na jejich základnu.
📸: Sven Lidström pic.twitter.com/NblKQeykZE
— Smartwings (@SmartwingsGroup) January 26, 2022