A21 History: The Jet Era

In 2023 Antarctica21 celebrates its 20th Anniversary. This is one of the notable moments in the company’s history.

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

In 2023 Antarctica21 celebrates its 20th Anniversary. During our company’s 20th anniversary year, we want to celebrate our history with a review of the important milestones that have defined our journey. This is one of the notable moments in the company’s history. You can read more stories here.

Written by Nicolás Pivcevic, Executive Director of Aerovías DAP

When Antarctica21 began its operation in 2003, our guests flew to Antarctica in a 50-passenger De Haviland Dash-7 aircraft.

Following a review of Antarctica’s environmental conditions and operational requirements, we selected the Dash-7 as the most practical option. The plane’s four turboprop engines offered reasonable speed and supported the operation of long flights over open water. The aircraft could also fly above the weather and offer a comfortable ride. Finally, with its high-wing construction, it could land on King George Island’s short, gravel runway.

Caption: Christophe Lepetit_0607_Antarctica 1881.jpg

The Dash-7 / Photo Credit: Christophe Lepetit

The Dash-7 was a workhorse and served us well in our early days. At that time, it was one of the largest civilian propeller aircraft available. The operation was quite good, allowing us to accumulate a lot of technical knowledge and valuable experience. However, the Dash-7 also came with some limitations, the most important of which was its passenger capacity. Our ambition was to fly with more passengers. We also wanted to build redundancy in our flight operation. And there were business reasons as well: with a view to the future, we didn’t think that expanding our capacity by acquiring a Dash-7 aircraft would be the right move.

Following four seasons of successful Dash-7 operation, during which we consolidated our Antarctic air-cruise model and our business, we began looking for an alternative aircraft. For two seasons, we flew with a Lockheed C-130 Hercules operated by the Uruguayan Air Forces, an exceptional and short-lived arrangement. Finally, our search led us to the BAE/RJ aircraft model that we first introduced during the 2009-10 season.

The British Aerospace 146, or BAE146, was a game changer for our company’s beginning and important evolution. The aircraft was built in the UK, initially as a short-haul, regional airliner. It is a high-wing cantilever monoplane with a T-tail. It has four turbofan engines mounted underneath the wings. The aircraft operates very quietly and, for that reason, has also been marketed under the name Whisperjet.

The BAE146 meets all the same requirements as the Dash-7 and adds important advantages: it has greater passenger capacity, can carry a heavier load, and is significantly faster. The plane is also outfitted with special kits for operation on gravel runways and in extreme weather conditions, which improves our ability to deliver reliable services, and reduces maintenance requirements and costs.

The adoption of the BAE146 aircraft took our operation to another level. We had to make tremendous investments in the transition, including developing new training and certification programs and a new hangar with all the infrastructure to service the plane. We also made investments to attend to the needs of the King George Island operation in terms of infrastructure and human resources. It has been a lot of hard work for several teams of dedicated aviation professionals, but it has been very rewarding and satisfying.

BAE 146

Soon, the first aircraft was joined by a second one and then a third, strengthening the system with redundant capacity. During the process, we benefited from the technical support of specialized European companies who contributed to our project in various ways. Eventually, the RJ85 and RJ100 models, more recent variants of the BAE146, were added to the fleet.

As the fleet of aircraft evolved, we established a wonderful cooperation program with the manufacturer, British Aerospace. Through that program, we have developed customized and innovative solutions for our type of operation, becoming a center of specialized knowledge and expertise that is unique in the world.

The evolution of our business over the last 20 years has brought us to the perfect, scalable aviation solution for the unique Antarctic operation we run. It has also realized my family’s dream of delivering aviation services in a remote, operationally complex region like Antarctica. We do it with passion and dedication while channeling the spirit and ingenuity of all the early, pioneering Antarctic aviators who came before us.

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