Chinese media stated that the country has made its first commercial flight to the 7th continent, Antarctica. The first flight by Gulfstream G650 of Deer Jet, which landed on the continent on Saturday, December 16, carried 22 passengers. Chinese media celebrate this milestone as it was not easy to fly at temperature of less than -20 °C.
The flight took off from Hong Kong to South Africa for around 15 hours to refuel and another 5.5 hours flight to Antarctica. From there, another five to six hours to the pole, where the flight landed on a 2.5-km (1.5-mile) runway carved into the ice. Executive of Hainan Airlines said the opening of the flight is the result of 10 years of investigation and inspection efforts.
The trip was organized by Chinese tour operator in coordination with South African tour operator White Desert which offers such trips to the pole on a regular basis. It is estimated 30,000 to 40,000 people travel to the Antarctic annually, with Chinese tourists making up the second-largest group in that number behind US. The number of Chinese tourists exploring Antarctica has increase from fewer than a hundred in 2008 to nearly 4,000 last year.
Beside flight to Antarctica, most tourists visit by boat – typically from Argentina’s southernmost port of Ushuaia. Another way is to go from New Zealand which most travelers choose as it traces the footstep of famous past explorers like Sir Ernest Shackleton. The trip might differ from six days to three weeks or even longer.
46,265 visitors visited in the year 2007-2008 but visitor numbers dropped in the following years due to the global economic crisis. Now numbers have been steadily on the rise again over the past years. Last season 44,367 tourists visited the continent and numbers are expected to keep rising.
The International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO) was created to promote a safe and environmentally responsible tourism industry and works closely with the Antarctic Treaty Parties, which is a partnership of more than 50 countries jointly governing the continent and make strict guidelines to preserve the environment.
Travel season is during the Antarctic summer from November until the end of March. The cheapest options will cost around $5,000 (£3,750) – that’s by boat from Ushuaia.
China has identified the Polar Regions as one of the country’s new strategic frontiers. At the recent Communist Party Congress, Beijing’s new five-year plan clearly stated that the government wanted to invest huge amounts of money in projects towards the exploration of the poles.