Chinese 35th Antarctic research expedition team has recently discovered a huge blue ice area in the Antarctic suitable for the country's first large permanent airport on the continent.
"Blue ice has good bearing capacity, impact resistance and stability," Xinhua quoted Sun Bo, the leader of the expedition team, as saying Sunday.
The team will inspect the blue ice area before deciding on the construction plan. The site can be used to operate China’s strategic transport aircraft Y-20, Airbus' and Boeing's long-range commercial planes without modifying their landing gears, Global Times reported Monday.
There are eight “Blue ice” airports from different countries in the Antarctic, Sun said.
A blue ice runway is a runway constructed in Antarctic areas with no net annual snow accumulation. Such runways simplify the transfer of materials to research stations, since wheeled aircraft can carry much heavier loads than ski-equipped aircraft. Pegasus Field, Ross Dependency, serving McMurdo Station, and operated by the United States Antarctic Program (closed since 2016); Troll Airfield, Queen Maud Land, serving Troll Station, and operated by the Norwegian Polar Institute; Union Glacier Blue-Ice Runway, Ellsworth Land, serving Union Glacier Camp, and operated by Antarctic Logistics and Expeditions LLC; Wilkins Runway, Wilkes Land, serving Casey Station, and operated by the Australian Antarctic Division are blue ice runways of Antarctica.
Another form of airstrip, the “Skiway,” requires an aircraft that is equipped with a sled landing gear to take off and land, Xinhua reported. Larger aircraft cannot use a skiway at all, it said.
Dong Yue, a research fellow at the polar research institute of the Ocean University of China, told the Global Times that it was difficult for China to transport personnel and goods like food and equipment to the Antarctic, or take out samples from there. "Using a large aircraft will be more efficient."
China now operates four research stations in the Antarctic, with a fifth under construction. However, no permanent airfield is available to China. The research teams previously used Russia's Progress Skiway. But the 35th Antarctic research expedition team is building an experimental skiway near the Zhongshan Station, according to Xinhua.