The Australian Government has advanced its plan to build a paved runway near its Davis research station in the Vestfold Hills, Antarctica.
The “Davis aerodrome” project has been put out for competitive tender by the Australian Government for the 2.7km paved runway, along with a 4.5km access road and other aerodrome and station infrastructure.
The project will enable year-round flights between Australia and Antarctica, with stations currently inaccessible by air or ship in winter. Australia’s current Antarctic aviation system only has flights in summer between Hobart and the Wilkins Aerodrome ice runway in Antarctica.
All runways in Antarctica are made from ice, with the Davis Aerodrome being the first paved runway on the frozen continent.
When operational, Davis Aerodrome will become Australia’s primary aviation hub, with flight paths currently being created for intercontinental and intracontinental aircraft.
Construction materials and items are planned to be transported by icebreakers and ice-strengthened cargo vessels to a new wharf, which will be built from material sourced within the project footprint, near the Davis research station.
It is expected to take “up to nine ship voyages per year for up to 10 years” to transport the required items to Antarctica.
“Year-round access provides opportunities to study wildlife across the annual lifecycle of key species including krill, penguins, seals and seabirds, and allow scientists to investigate processes through the full cycle of changes including through winter,” the government proposal said.
Around three million cubic metres of earthworks are needed for the runway, with the majority comprised of drilling and blasting activity.
The runway itself will be constructed from pre-cast concrete pavers that are made in Australia and assembled in Antarctica.
An estimated 11,500 pavers will be used in the project, each weighing 10 tonnes. The pavers will be transported by barge from cargo ships and towed to the site over winter. They will then be craned and grouted during construction.
“If it goes ahead, this will be the most significant infrastructure project in Antarctica to date, and it is unprecedented in scale and complexity,” Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) director and project proponent Kim Ellis said in May.
“The AAD sought expert advice on the most appropriate procurement model to ensure both industry engagement and value for money for the Government.
“A Competitive Alliance model was deemed the most suitable because it fosters a collaborative and innovative approach with the delivery partner, with an open book policy and decisions made on a ‘Best for Project’ basis.
“It will transform our ability to conduct science in East Antarctica.”