Loftleiðir Icelandic, a subsidiary of the Icelandair Group, landed a Boeing 757 passenger aircraft on a blue-ice runway in Antarctica just last week. This is one of only a few times such a feat has been accomplished, and the first time ever for an Icelandic aircraft with all Icelandic crew.
The Boeing 757 was called Eldborg, named after a volcano in Western Iceland, and carried some sixty passengers from the origin point in Punto Arenas at the southern tip of Chile to Union Glacier in northern Antarctica. The trip was scheduled as part of an ongoing research project conducted by a touring company Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions (ALE), which specializes in trips to Antarctica. ALE is working in cooperation with Icelandair and NAS Corporation Limited to seek ways of expanding tourism in Antarctica.
Currently ALE brings 400-500 travellers to Antarctica per year. Up until now the aircraft most commonly used for transport have been military and cargo planes that have been specially tested for polar conditions. ALE hopes that by bringing in the use of passengers planes, more people seeking to go on expeditions and tours in the southernmost continent will have easy access to comfortable and safe transportation.
According to a spokesperson for Loftleiðir, Erlendur Svavarsson, the pilots who guided the first flight onto the ice runway last week were specially trained in simulators before the journey and reportedly stated that the landing was less slippery than the strip at Keflavík International Airport in Iceland.
This is the first step of making commercial flights to Antarctica more widely available, whereas the continent has previously been difficult to reach and generally prohibitive for tourism.