Sight-seeing flights to resume
Commercial sight-seeing fligths to Antarctica will operate from New Zealand for the first time since the Mt Erebus crash more than 30 years ago.
Flights to the cold, remote destination from Auckland stopped when a the Air New Zealand Flight 901 crashed on November 28, 1979, killing all 237 passengers and 20 crew on board.
Thirty-three years later, Antarctica Sightseeing Flights will introduce one flight on February 3 next year, using a Boeing 747-400ER aircraft chartered from Qantas.
The airline has been operating flights to Antarctica from Australia for the past 18 years, carrying over 31,000 passengers, including 1000 Kiwis, on 110 flights.
Antarctica Sightseeing Flights founder and director Phil Asker said it was time to introduce the flight to New Zealand, but he had ''no desire'' to cause any problems considering the history of the Erebus disaster.
"For that reason, we haven't operated out of New Zealand in the past. We are very sensitive to what is going on, but what we are doing is offering an Antarctica sight-seeing flight," he said.
Antarctica Sightseeing Flights' trip from Auckland would accommodate 364 passengers and it was expected to overfly the first sea ice about three and a half hours after departing.
The flight could descended to a minimum of 10,000 feet above sea level or 2,000 feet higher than the highest ground for a radius of 180 kilometres, and would typically include the Ross Sea.
Prices for a ticket ranged from NZ$1,599 for Economy Class Centre to NZ$9,299 for Ice Class.
Asker said there was no easier way to explore the world's most remote location than by flying there on a one-day sightseeing trip.
"New Zealanders are adventurers and pioneered sightseeing flights to Antarctica.
"Seeing Antarctica is a lifelong dream for many people, but the cost of a cruise and the length of time spent getting there means the closest that most will ever come to seeing the world's last great wilderness area is via the media," he said.
The flight plan would go over the Italian research base at Terra Nova Bay, Mt Melbourne, Mt Minto, Cape Hallett, Cape Adare and the Ninnis and Mertz Glaciers.
Depending upon viewing conditions, other points of interest may include the Trans Antarctic Mountains.
Weather forecasts would be checked the night before departure and then again on the mornings before leaving.
Asker said Antarctic experts would provide on board commentary about the terrain, as well as stories of their own experiences living and working there.
There was currently no plans for a second flight from New Zealand, but Asker said if there was demand the airline would consider it.
"If this flight fills up, we may have to look at a second flight. We are hoping that it may be something that we do again in the future."
The airline's announcement comes a day after Antarctica New Zealand said it will host a third and final trip to the continent for the families who lost loved ones in the Erebus crash.