While Europe enjoys a mild start towards winter, spare a thought for the crew of Hi Fly flight 3L801/3L802. Yesterday they took an Airbus A340-300 on a 5,000-nautical-mile (9,260 kilometers) odyssey from Cape Town, South Africa, to Antarctica and back.

A short hop to the White Desert

The Airbus A340-300, registration 9H-TQZ, took around five hours to cover each leg, although the actual flight times are unavailable on Flightradar24.com. That data shows that the Hi Fly aircraft departed Cape Town International Airport (CPT) at 08:18 and landed back there at 21:54. Hi Fly will use the A340 Preighter for flights this season carrying a small number of tourists alongside scientists and essential cargo to the white wilderness.

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Hi Fly Antarctica to Cape Town A340 Flight Map November 2022

Yesterday’s flight followed in the wake of Hi Fly’s first A340 flight to Antarctica in November last year, operated by 9H-SOL. Both services landed at the colorfully named Wolf’s Fang Runway (WFR) in Queen Maud Land, Antarctica. WFR’s runway is carved from blue glacial ice that is around 4,600 feet (1.4 kilometers) thick, 8,200 feet (2,500 meters) long and 196 feet (60 meters) wide. The first A340 flight last year was with an Airbus A340-313HGW (High Gross Weight) with a maximum take-off weight of 275 tons, so the ice runway is more than strong enough for these aircraft.

Hi Fly A340 WFR Runway 211102 Antarctica

Photo: Hi Fly

While Hi Fly is a Portuguese charter operator, yesterday’s aircraft is registered to Hi Fly Malta. According to ch-aviation.com, Hi Fly Malta has a fleet of twelve Airbus aircraft, including five A340-300s, three A330-300s, two A330-200s and two A319-100s. The A340s have an average age of 23.5 years, although 9H-TQZ is slightly older at 25 years. It was first delivered to Singapore Airlines in 1997, joining Hi Fly in May 2013 after a short stint with Emirates. After joining Hi Fly, it has spent time on lease to Norwegian Air Shuttle, XL Airways France and Saudi Arabian Airlines, returning to Hi Fly in December 2014.

Hi Fly’s A340 first touched the ice in 2021

Hi Fly A340 first flight to Antartica November 21 2021

Photo: Hi Fly 

Last year’s flight was under the command of Hi Fly vice president and co-founder Captain Carlos Mirpuri. Mirpuri has accumulated more than 17,000 flying hours in his flying career, with pilot ratings including the Airbus A320/A330/A350/A380 and A340. He produced a log of the initial A340 flight to Antarctica, in which he said picking out the runway presents its own challenges.

“There is no visual glide slope guidance, and the blending of the runway with the surrounding terrain and the immense white desert around makes height adjustment challenging to say the least.”

The highly changeable weather of the polar region means it’s vital for pilots to receive accurate reports as they are en route. Mirpuri says the staff at WFR send these via satellite phone to Hi Fly’s team in Lisbon, who forward them to the A340 crew. He says this frequent reassurance that the actual weather matches the forecast is vital when “you fly to the end of the world.”

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Hi Fly A340 Antarctica November 2021

Photo: Hi Fly

As the aircraft passes through the top of descent, another vital piece of information that gets passed on is the runway friction report. Friction reports come from a specially equipped car driving along the runway and taking measurements every 500 meters (1,640 feet) to determine the runway’s condition. WFR has equipment that cleans and carves grooves into the ice runway, and Mirpuri says the team was confident there would be no problems, “at least on paper, as never had an A340 landed before in blue glacial ice.” He was right.

No doubt these flights would be in high demand, and in some ways, it would be the ultimate plane spotter experience. What do you think?

Source: simpleflying.com

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