“In the spirit of exploration, we are proud to have a hand in this important and unique mission,” Norse CEO Bjorn Tore Larsen said in a statement. “It is a true testament to our highly trained and skilled pilots and crew, and our state-of-the-art Boeing aircraft.”
According to Flightradar24, teams spend two weeks removing snow, repairing any cracks or deficiencies in the runway, and adding a thin layer of crushed snow and ice to create the required friction for aircraft operations.
Crews use heavy machinery like snow throwers and modified snow tractors for the task, with safety kept at the forefront.
“Each person [who will work on the airfield] goes through training in Svalbard [Norway] on much the same equipment before coming to the station,” Troll operations manager Sven Lidström told Flightradar24 in 2021.
With the arrival of Norse’s 787, Norwegian Polar Institute Director Camilla Brekke said the successful flight would open up “entirely new possibilities for logistics at Troll,” adding that using large and modern aircraft will also achieve environmental benefits by reducing the need for more frequent trips via smaller planes.
Meanwhile, Icelandair’s charter subsidiary Loftleider Icelandic Airlines landed a Boeing 757 in Antarctica in 2015 — another world first for that model. The carrier has since made more recent trips in 2021 and 2022 using a Boeing 767.
Besides commercial flights, the barren continent also hosts aircraft operated by the US military, including C-17 Globemaster cargo jets and ski-equipped Lockheed LC-130s.
Although all of these giant planes are capable of landing on Antarctica’s icy runways, the operation is no small feat.
According to Hi-Fly A340 captain Carlos Mirpuri, harsh weather conditions and the reflecting runway create added challenge and risk — meaning clear conditions and low winds must be present to safely land on the rugged glacial landing strip.
“There is also no visual glide slope guidance, and the blending of the runway with the surrounding terrain and the immense white desert around, makes height judgment challenging, to say the least,” he said, noting the extensive pre-flight planning and preparation required.
White Desert takes extreme precautions as well, with company CEO Patrick Woodhead telling Business Insider in February that it has a team of meteorologists to assess and monitor the weather.
He further explained that, similar to Troll’s weeks-long pre-flight preparations, White Desert spends 22 hours grooming its blue ice runway to ensure it has the “right friction level” to handle the mammoth A340.