MIAMI – Icelandair (FI) flew a Boeing 767-300ER on a special trip to the Troll Research Station (AT27) in Antarctica after a brief stop on Cape Town (CPT) for refueling.

The purpose of such a bizarre and unusual flight was to transport Norwegian researchers from South Africa to Antarctica, as well as to pick others from the South Pole to fly them back to Oslo (OSL).

The 20-year-old Boeing 767 flew from Keflavik Airport (KEF) with a crew of twenty, including six pilots, thirteen flight attendants, and one mechanic. The unusually large crew allowed pilots to rest during the several legs of the journey from KEF all the way back to OSL.

The flight, on the long end for a Boeing 767, was able to operate it due to the low payload of passengers.

The flight was one of many special flights that the COVID-19 pandemic has required of airlines to operate. Flights to repatriate citizens with their countries became a frequent sight throughout the last year.

This flight comes just weeks after Lufthansa flew to the Falkland Islands for a similar purpose. At that time, the German carrier flew its longest-ever nonstop flight to get German researchers to Antarctica.

Icelandair Boeing 767 | Photo: Mateo Skinner/Airways

Challenges of the Flight

The main challenge for the flight was the distance, which covered over 20,000 miles. The flight from Iceland to South Africa covered a distance of approximately 7,100 miles.

The second leg of the trip from South Africa to the research station covered a distance of approximately 2,700 miles. On the way back, the aircraft will have to operate the same exact distance, including the stop to OSL on the flight back to KEF.

Another challenge for the flight was the unique conditions. The pilots landed the aircraft on a landing strip on ice, an operation which demands extremely experienced pilots and precise maneuvering of the aircraft.

The airline’s announcement on social media stated that they were not worried about the operation as snow, ice and wind are truly within their natural operating conditions.

Icelandair Boeing 757 in the 50 Years of Aviation Special Livery | Photo: Ervin Eslami

Antarctic Flight Operations

The first flight over Antarctica took place on November 16, 1928, piloted by Hubert Wilkins, using a Lockhead Vega 1 monoplane.

In 2015, the airline became the first to land a commercial jet on the icy continent, proving that commercial aircraft could land on
ice runways. The flight was between Chile and Union Glacier operated by a Boeing 757.

Other flights to the continent are operated by the Australian Antarctic Program using several Airbus A319s and Qantas, (QF) offering several sightseeing flights over Antarctica.

Featured Photo: Kochan Kleps/Airways