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

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

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.

But 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 the Antarctic . 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 inaugural flight two days earlier.

The flights proved popular and Air New Zealand applied to the CAD for permission to hold further flights in the two summers that followed. 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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