Antarctic flights

ZK-NZP, the Air New Zealand DC-10 that crashed into Mt Erebus, Antarctica, seen here landing at London's Heathrow Airport in 1977.

Air New Zealand's flights to Antarctica

When Air New Zealand first considered operating flights to Antarctica in the late 1960s, the airline discussed the conditions it would need to meet with the Ministry of Transport's Civil Aviation Division (CAD). It was unclear if flights would be economically viable under these conditions, and the airline deferred its plans until it had replaced its DC-8 fleet. The first of its new DC-10s arrived in 1973, enabling the airline to make flights over the icy continent and return to New Zealand without landing, eliminating costs such as the need to provide of passenger facilities at McMurdo Station.

First sightseeing trip

Qantas and Air New Zealand weren't the first commercial airlines to operate Antarctic sightseeing trips. The first flight was made by Linea Aerea Nacional (the Chilean national airline) in 1956. It took 66 passengers on a non-stop flight from Chile over the South Shetland Islands and Trinity Peninsula.

It was another four years before the airline made its first Antarctic flight. Its renewed interest was apparently prompted by demand in New Zealand, sparked by an announcement by Australian airline Qantas in late 1976 that it would be operating charter flights to Antarctica. In January 1977 the CAD granted approval for Air New Zealand to operate two flights. The airline's inaugural Antarctic flight was on 15 February 1977; Qantas had made its first flight two days earlier.

The flights proved popular and Air New Zealand applied to the CAD for permission for further flights in the next two summers. By the time both airlines terminated their flights – Air New Zealand immediately after the Erebus disaster in November 1979 and Qantas in February 1980 – they had carried approximately 10,000 passengers to Antarctica.

Next page: Antarctic flights in November 1979

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