Air New Zealand will soon be heading south – to Antarctica. This will be the first commercial airline to bring passengers to the frozen continent and land on an ice runway. Would be Antarctic tourists shouldn’t get their hopes up, however, since the chartered flights only cater to scientists.

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In the past, government or military agencies lead scientific flights to Antarctica, but Air New Zealand will be utilizing a regular passenger jet for their Antarctic flights. Although a standard concrete runway isn’t in place on the continent, Air New Zealand isn’t worried. The frozen ice runways are similar to regular snow-covered runways, they say, making for a similar landing for the Boeing 767-300 planes.

The airline is doing a trial run of the Antarctic flights on October 5, 2013. The passenger jet is scheduled to disembark from Christchurch and land at the Ross Ice Shelf on the Pegasus ice runway, completing a five-hour flight. Should the trip prove successful, Air New Zealand will schedule two more Antarctic flights for scientific teams in the southern hemisphere.

Having a commercial airline behind the flights is more cost effective for the scientific teams, as the planes are already equipped with large fuel tanks, rendering expensive refueling unnecessary. The commercial jets also hold many more seats. Around 200 scientists and staff, including Americans, will make the trip on the Air New Zealand charters. Although the flights will allow more scientists to study the continent, regular tourists seeking to set foot on the frozen land will have to travel by boat.

Via The Guardian

Images: NASA Goddard Photo and Video and es0teric