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NZDF Summer Season in Antarctica Proves Busy Times for Air Movements Personnel

The Antarctica 2020/21 summer season proved a busy time for air movements personnel based in Christchurch after they managed the transportation of more than one million kilos of cargo to and from the ice.

30 April, 2021

The NZDF has a long-standing commitment to supporting scientific and environmental programmes in Antarctica and NZDF personnel play an integral part of operations there.

The Senior National Officer for the NZDF’s Operation Antarctica, Major Andrew Thornton, said fewer NZDF personnel were deployed to the ice this year in line with decisions by Antarctica New Zealand and international Antarctic programmes to reduce the size of their teams there following the emergence of the global Covid-19 pandemic.

``We had fewer personnel on the ice this summer compared to other years, however our personnel continued to play an important part in the ongoing operations including by providing air and logistical support,’’ Major Thornton said.

Fifteen NZDF personnel were deployed to Antarctica for the summer. Once the New Zealand-based support is included, the commitment involved around 80 personnel.

In 2019/20, about 200 personnel were deployed as part of Op ANTARCTICA.

This summer, five NZDF personnel were part of the Scott Base support team including a senior cargo handler, two plant operators, and two communications officers whose responsibilities include establishing communications with research teams in the field.

For the first time, the NZDF sent a team of six military hydrographers, from the Royal New Zealand Navy dive and hydrography unit HMNZS MATATAUA, to Antarctica. They carried out an underwater survey to assist with logistical planning for Antarctica New Zealand’s Scott Base redevelopment project.

"More data will be needed, however, the hydrography team’s work has demonstrated that Antarctica New Zealand’s logistical concept for the delivery of the new base is feasible."

Personnel who deployed to Antarctica completed 14 days managed isolation in Christchurch before going to the ice, Major Thornton said.

The air movements team at Harewood Terminal moved more cargo this year compared to the 2019/20 season.

Environmental conditions prevented an ice pier being established for offloading cargo from a ship, and Antarctica programmes made greater use of a United States C-17 aircraft with decisions also made to close out the summer season with an air bridge.

In total, 503 passengers went through Harewood Terminal, during the 2020/21 season, compared to 2417 passengers in 2019/20.

As well, 1,108,770 kilograms (2,444,420lbs) of cargo was moved compared to 887,269kg (1,956,095lbs) in the 2019/20 season. This included 195,044kg (430,000lbs) in the last week of flying. The cargo included items such as frozen food, an ice runway compactor and  equipment for teams on the ice.

Royal New Zealand Air Force No 40 Squadron carried out five flights to Antarctica this season, with a C130 Hercules taking cargo and passengers to Phoenix Runway, to support the US Antarctic Program and to Terra Nova Bay, to support the Italian Antarctic programme.  Runway and weather conditions affected further flights by RNZAF aircraft.

The NZDF has been providing support to Antarctica programmes since the 1950s, making this one of its most enduring missions.

"We’re already working with Antarctica New Zealand, planning our next summer season in Antarctica," Major Thornton said.