Kiwis fly to Antarctica to start a new research season

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Ninety New Zealand and American scientists and support staff and 12.5 tonnes of payload were flown to Antarctica today as the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) began its annual airlift support mission to the world’s most important natural laboratory.

CAPTION: A Royal New Zealand Air Force Boeing 757 on an ice runway in Antarctica at the start of the 2017/18 scientific-support season. NZDF photo.

A Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) Boeing 757 aircraft will bring 40 scientists and support staff when it flies back to New Zealand later this evening.

“The NZDF has been supporting Antarctic science through the Joint Logistics Pool over the past 52 years,” Major General Tim Gall, the Commander Joint Forces New Zealand, said.

“Every year, we deploy our aircraft and up to 220 of our personnel to help advance globally important research that has been key to understanding how our world works and the impact of human activity upon it.”

Lieutenant Commander Ross Hickey, the NZDF Senior National Officer in Antarctica, said the Boeing flight marked the start of the NZDF’s biggest operation for the 2017-18 summer season.

The NZDF will fly 11 strategic airlift flights this summer – five Boeing 757 flights and six C-130 Hercules flights – to bring scientists and equipment needed to support New Zealand and United States research programmes on the continent, Lieutenant Commander Hickey said.

Peter Beggs, Antarctica New Zealand Chief Executive, said “the NZDF had been an integral part of the New Zealand Antarctic programme since the Royal New Zealand Navy supported Sir Edmund Hillary and his team to Antarctica 60 years ago when they established Scott Base.”

“NZDF support has been an integral part of our logistics and science efforts. It is a highly valued contributor to our joint logistics arrangements with other Antarctic nations, particularly the United States,” Mr Beggs said.

The NZDF flew 260 scientists and support staff and 83 tonnes of vital supplies to Antarctica during the 2016-17 summer season. On average, its yearly airlift missions to Antarctica ferry about 320 passengers and 40 tonnes of freight.

The NZDF also provides search and rescue support, air transport, and terminal operations at Harewood Terminal in Christchurch and McMurdo Station, and helps unload the annual container ship.

Up to 220 NZDF personnel are deployed during the summer season to support Scott Base and McMurdo. They include air crew, refuelling operators, logistics specialists, Army engineers, heavy plant operators, cargo handlers, communications specialists and staff providing ground support and passenger and cargo facilitation.

Scott Base, New Zealand’s permanent research support station on the continent, is home to about 85 researchers and support staff who have partnered with international scientists to develop a global understanding of Antarctica’s vulnerability in a changing climate and the influence this will have on the rest of the world.

McMurdo is the hub of US scientific activity in Antarctica and accommodates more than 1000 scientists and support personnel during the summer season.

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