Antarctica is the world’s eighth continent and, by far, the least populated, with little human activity. It is the world’s coldest and iciest continent, accounting for over 90% of the planet’s total ice surface.
While the majority of the continent is thought to be one large landmass, Antarctica also comprises several islands in the Southern Ocean. Because of its magnificent vistas and relatively unexplored region, Antarctica may be an extremely appealing trip for people who are very daring.
Many people who are interested in this region will want to know if there are any commercial flights that will take them there. However, reaching the South Pole is far more difficult than most people imagine.
Why Don’t Planes Fly Over Antarctica?
There are numerous reasons for this, not the least of which is that Antarctica is not the most welcoming or safe area to fly in the first place. There are also various navigational issues, as well as a lack of infrastructure.
With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at some of the reasons why flying over Antarctica continues to be a challenge for pilots.
First and foremost, Antarctica does not offer the most inviting climate for human activity of any kind. With some of the coldest and most extreme conditions on the planet, it requires months of rigorous training to be ready to operate there.
And the only individuals there are those who are working or conducting research. The majority of human settlements on Antarctica are scientific facilities. Because the location is not a popular tourist destination, planes do not fly there for pleasure.
How cold can it get in Antarctica? Try -89.6 degrees Celsius, which was recorded at Vostok Station in 1983. In the winter, the average temperature in Antarctica is in the -40s Celsius range. In comparison, your freezer is probably just approximately -18 degrees Celsius.
Needless to say, those are not conditions in which you will be taking a vacation anytime soon, nor are they settings in which airplanes should be flying. Even if you’re not flying in such subzero temperatures, ice will be a major issue.
De-icing is already required for planes operating in cold weather. Depending on the size of the plane and the amount of de-icing fluid used, de-icing sessions can potentially cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
That doesn’t even take into account anti-icing methods like onboard electrical heating, which keeps the wings warm enough to dissolve ice.
Consider the cost of doing all of that in order to fly over one of the world’s coldest places.
In addition, even in cold weather somewhere else, there is a very little window of time after deicing a plane in which it is safe to fly. When flying over Antarctica, however, that window is likely to be narrow or nonexistent.
2. Poor Visibility
Then there’s the reality that Antarctica doesn’t have the best visibility in the world. Needless to say, it is constantly exposed to whiteouts, which may be extremely perilous for pilots to contend with even in the best of conditions, let alone in Antarctica.
It is critical for pilots to keep constant contact with the ground in order to guarantee that they know where they are heading and that they are still level and in good flying shape. It is exceedingly risky to lose track of their position when in the air. Solid white tundras, such as those found in Antarctica, increase the likelihood of this occurring.
Furthermore, there is always the possibility of pilots encountering storms. These can be dangerous even in the best of circumstances, but in the harsh conditions of the Antarctic, they can be deadly.
3. A Lack of Infrastructure
There isn’t plenty of infrastructure on Antarctica, excluding towers, airports, and other structures that can help planes take off, land, and navigate.
Because of the lack of such infrastructure, flying over Antarctica can be compared to flying over the sea. On the other hand, flying over a sea or ocean often has significantly superior vision and historical flight tracks, giving pilots an idea of where to travel via charts.
In the case of Antarctica, all of that is missing. There are few to no established flight lanes, and there is nothing to assist you if you need to land.
4. Navigation and Other Concerns
Things only grow more difficult from there. The magnetic fields that pervade the polar regions pose unique navigation challenges. These can make flying problematic since the polar zones interfere with magnetic navigational instruments.
Furthermore, the area’s isolation can make it difficult for planes to communicate with flight controllers. This is critical for pilots to undertake to ensure they are flying in the right direction and avoiding any storms or other hazards.
The FAA has posted a list of standards for flying in cold weather conditions, all of which would be required for flying over Antarctica, and all of which would increase the expense of the work. These are their names:
- To begin, you’ll need to bring at least two “cold weather anti-exposure suits” with you. Wearing a warm coat and a couple layers will not be enough. These suits are specifically developed to combat harsh weather conditions. As you may think, these outfits can be quite pricey.
- You will also require route-specific training for dealing with weather conditions in the cold area to which you will be traveling. However, because there is virtually no air travel over the Antarctic, obtaining “route-specific training” for routes that do not exist is difficult to nearly impossible.
- Improved radios and other communication capabilities are also required for aircraft to maintain contact with air control towers. As previously indicated, this can be quite challenging in the polar regions.
- In the case of any emergency, you’ll need to think of backup plans for diverting to nearby airports. However, Antarctica has virtually no airports, let alone emergency ones.
- Finally, you’ll need to figure out how to keep the gasoline from freezing.
5. Incapable Aircrafts
Another primary reason the majority of planes don’t fly over Antarctica is because of ETOPS (Extended-range Twin-Engine Operations Performance Standards), which limit the distance a twin-engine aircraft can travel from diversion airports.
Other constraints that influence flying over Antarctica include restrictions for aircraft that may need to make emergency landings in frozen regions and the possibility that the cold air will reduce fuel temperatures below the minimum standards; however, these can be addressed with considerable forethought.
According to some sources, navigation equipment would not work when flying near the north or south poles. While this is true for older magnetic compasses, contemporary GPS-based satellite equipment works perfectly at the poles. Every year, more than 5,000 planes travel over the North Pole.
Why Should You Know About ETOPS?
ETOPS ratings will be assigned to all twin-engine aircraft and airlines.
A plane and airline with an ETOPS-180 certification, for example, are not permitted to fly more than 3 hours from a diversion airport. This implies that even if one of the engines fails, the plane can land safely.
The aircraft is assessed based on its ability to fly with only one engine and the rarity of such an occurrence. Meanwhile, the airline is graded on the training of its employees, both on the ground and on board.
Given that 95% of the world’s population can be reached while staying within ETOPS-2073, manufacturers have had no motivation to obtain greater safety ratings. Higher-rated aircraft comprise the Boeing 787 Dreamliner at ETOPS-3304 and the Airbus A350, which has the highest ETOPS-370 rating.
Even with the maximum ETOPS-370, it is still not possible to fly over a significant portion of the Antarctic continent due to its remoteness, and there are no suitable commercial airports on the continent where such large airplanes can land, so it remains necessary to be within 370 minutes flying time of the nearest airports.
Has Anyone Ever Flown Over Antarctica?
Flights to Antarctica already exist and are rising year after year, as Antarctic tourism grows in popularity. Tourism flights to Antarctica typically depart from nations around the Arctic Circle, such as Chile.
These flights frequently do not include landing an airplane on the continent, but some tourism organizations do allow people to visit Antarctica. Certain airstrips are also used by researchers to fly into and out of the continent, but they are not open all year.
These airstrips are also usually found around the shores of Antarctica. An Airbus A139 flight, for example, landed in Antarctica for a healthcare mission.
Is It Illegal to Fly Over Antarctica?
Because flying over Antarctica is not forbidden, it is not considered a no-fly zone. However, there is no incentive to fly over Antarctica because it is not near any airports and does not have its own country. In truth, planes currently fly over Antarctica only for research, military objectives, rescue missions, and stunning tourists.
There are certain exceptions to the general statement that flying over Antarctica is difficult.
1. For Research Purposes
Every year, hundreds of researchers travel to Antarctica to monitor the temperature and undertake geographical studies. These scientists are also interested in the ecology of Antarctica. There are also numerous flights to Antarctica for data collection and sensor deployment.
2. Military Reasons
The Antarctic Treaty of 1961 prohibits all military operations on the continent, except for humanitarian grounds such as providing supplies or rescuing scientific personnel. The latest military flight to Antarctica, however, was in 2006, when a Royal New Zealand Air Force plane made a testing mission to the continent.
3. Rescue Purpose
Rescue flights to Antarctica are operated in the event of serious medical problems for visitors and researchers. These flights transport personnel to the nearest suitable medical facilities around the world.
Antarctica’s picturesque tourism services are provided by tourist businesses in Australia and New Zealand. Although these aircraft do not land on the continent, they fly low enough to allow passengers to see the Antarctic surface.
Can You Fly Over the South Pole?
With ETOPS ratings rapidly improving, it’s not difficult to foresee a time when aircraft can reach all corners of the planet while remaining within regulations.
Airplanes might fly over the south pole in the same way that over 5,000 flights travel over the north pole each year. However, because pilots and flight attendants are exposed to high quantities of radiation, it would represent an occupational hazard.
This is due to the fact that the Earth’s magnetic field is essentially nonexistent at this location, increasing exposure to solar radiation.
Flight attendants are already at an increased risk of acquiring certain types of cancer due to their regular exposure to high altitudes. Flying over the South Pole, particularly during a solar occurrence, may expose you to more radiation than the annual recommended dose in just one flight.
Question 1:- Do Satellites Fly Over Antarctica?
Answer :- Yes, numerous satellites, notably NASA’s Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) and the European Space Agency’s Swarm Satellites, travel over Antarctica. When a satellite flies over the Earth’s polar regions, it is considered to be in a polar orbit, moving north to south rather than east to west.
A satellite does not have to fly precisely over the north or south poles to be regarded as being positioned in a polar orbit; an inclination of less than 30° is sufficient.
Question 2:-Can You Fly Over the North Pole?
Answer :- Yes, it is possible to fly over the North Pole; NASA estimates that 5,000 flights take place each year. Newer GPS-based navigation equipment, unlike older magnetic equipment, has no issues at the north pole. However, due to the high level of radiation near the poles, doing so on a frequent basis would be hazardous to people onboard.