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Friday, 6 December 1985
Page: 3233

(Question No. 684)

Senator Archer asked the Minister representing the Minister for Science, upon notice, on 14 November 1985:

(1) Has the Minister for Science had representation from the Director of the Antarctic Division for an airstrip to be constructed in the Antarctic for use by Australian expeditioners.

(2) What action does the Government intend taking on the matter.

(3) Will the Government also give consideration to the setting up in Hobart of an emergency facility which can be called on at short notice by any of the bases in the Antarctic Region with such facility having immediate access to a suitable aircraft.

Senator Button —The Minister for Science has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

(1) For some time the Antarctic Division has been studying ways in which transport could be used to deploy personnel and limited amounts of cargo to Australia's three stations in Antarctica-Casey, Davis and Mawson.

The most recent study on air transport was a review of the various air transport options conducted by the National Materials Handling Bureau (NMHB). The principal findings of the study were that:

The establishment of an airfield at Casey, for operation of intercontinental aircraft to and from Australia is technically feasible but operationally impractical because of the very adverse weather conditions at the site.

A conventional hard-surfaced runway could be constructed at Davis at an estimated capital cost of $48.6m (1984 prices). The relatively favourable weather conditions would enable the reliable and safe operation of commercial-type jet aircraft services from Australia.

Weather conditions at Mawson pose a significant element of risk to personnel, equipment and aircraft and make lengthy delays and a high proportion of aborted flights very likely.

(2) Based on the findings of the NMHB report, the only operationally viable option for providing an air transport system would be to construct a conventional runway at Davis. However, taking account of interest, depreciation and running costs the Davis option represents an annual cost of some $8 to $10m and provides air transport to one station only. The Government recognises the importance of back up systems for emergency transport and would prefer not to have to seek the support of other nations. A projects group within the Antarctic Division is being assembled to examine a range of transport options, including the use of long range helicopters such as those used from ships by the South Africans in emergencies.

(3) The Antarctic Division in Hobart co-ordinates operations from Australia in the event of an emergency at any of the stations. The recent air evacuation from Davis Station was carried out by a special long range ski-equipped Hercules aircraft of the US National Science Foundation. There are no suitable ski- equipped aircraft available in Australia.