Airbus A340 ‘lands’ on Antarctica

Image copyright AFP Image caption The plane took off from Canberra after a sound barrier test in a smoky hangar

A Airbus A340 plane has landed on the frozen continent of Antarctica for the first time, making it the first aircraft to do so.

It arrived in McMurdo Sound, in south-west Antarctica, on New Year’s Eve for a two-day stopover.

The airport is accessible only by helicopter from land. Most flights to McMurdo land outside of the winter, which started at the start of the year.

The journey from Airbus headquarters in Toulouse, France, required a 6,000km (3,750 miles) journey by ship.

The A340 is one of the world’s largest passenger jets, measuring 280m long (892ft) and with a weight of 66,500kg (155,500lb).

Its twin engines make it the world’s fastest jet airliner.

It is the second time a A340 has come to Antarctica. In 2004, a similar aircraft landed on the continent for what Airbus described as a “sound barrier test”.

Image copyright GETTY IMAGES Image caption The stopover is important to researchers because McMurdo is inaccessible most of the year

Image copyright AFP Image caption Normally large planes can’t fly to McMurdo, because it’s located over a sea

“It is a major milestone, but we know it won’t end there,” Airbus said on its Antarctica website.

“Airbus is committed to finding new ways to fly over Antarctica with our customers, who range from research organisations to commercial travel operators, at all times of the year.”

The A340 can be refuelled on the flight to Antarctica, since it has a relatively small fuel capacity. That allows it to burn more fuel when refueling in the south, as the aircraft fills its tanks for its journey back to Toulouse.

Researchers usually land in nearby Victoria or Davis stations and drive several kilometres to the McMurdo airport.

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