China will build its first airfield in Antarctica to provide support for fixed-wing planes and facilitate the country’s research and expedition on the frigid continent during this year’s expedition, which begins on Nov 2.
The airfield will be near the Zhongshan Station, one of the nation’s Antarctic scientific research stations, and will be equipped with navigation equipment, refueling facilities and a waiting area, according to the expedition’s leading scientists.
“It’s designed only to meet the requirements for the takeoff and landing of the polar fixed-wing aircraft, Xueying 601, and the scale is small, completely different from airports and runways in cities,” said Xia Limin, deputy head of the Chinese Arctic and Antarctic Administration of the Ministry of Natural Resources.
“The airport and its auxiliary facilities are designed to fill the seasonal needs of the expedition team. We’ll only use it during summer in Antarctica,” he said.
Sun Bo, leader of the 351-member expedition team on the icebreaker Xuelong, said that since the introduction of the Xueying 601, the team has used Russia’s airfield near Zhongshan Station. The aircraft plays an important role in transportation of the team members, scientific investigation and emergency protection for the expedition.
The polar aircraft also has made experimental takeoffs and landings at temporary runways near Taishan and Kunlun, the other two Chinese Antarctic scientific research stations, according to the administration.
Sun said the country’s Antarctic research is guided by the idea of understanding, protecting and making good use of the region.
“The construction plan for the airfield will adopt techniques best adapted to the polar region and protect the Antarctic as much as possible. All waste will be brought back. The impact of the construction on the Antarctic environment is expected to be minimal,” Sun said.
Construction may not be completed during this year’s expedition, he said.
During the 68,500-kilometer round-trip ocean voyage before returning to Shanghai in mid-April, another key task for the expedition is to improve the infrastructure of a new scientific research station on Inexpressible Island in the Ross Sea. Construction started during last year’s expedition.
A penguin protection zone is also planned for the over 20,000 penguins living 4 km from the new station.
Five team members will be responsible for researching the establishment of the protection zone. “The idea is also a reflection of our principle of building while protecting,” said Zhang Tijun, deputy leader of the expedition team.