China Selects First Antarctic Airfield Site; To Start Construction in 2018
China has picked a location to set up its first ever airfield in Antarctica, with plans for construction expected to begin as early as year's end.
The airfield, which aims to facilitate Beijing's research efforts on the region, will be station near China's Zhongshan station on Antarctic's Prydz Bay. Members of China's 33rd expedition, which ended recently ended a 161-day mission, conducted a survey on a three-square-kilometer area and chose a place for the future airfield, China Daily reported citing Sun Bo, the deputy director of the State Oceanic Administration's Polar Research Institute of China.
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"At first the airfield will have only one runway, so the construction will be easy," Sun said, adding that this would only entail flattening and maintaining the selected area. He also noted that fixed-wing jets need to have a pair of runners to land.
"Next, we plan to build some runways in the same area. They will be flatter than the first runway and will be capable of accommodating large fixed-wing planes that are not equipped with runners," Sun said.
China currently has four Antarctic bases - Changcheng, Zhongshan, Taishan, and Kunlun. And supply vessels are used to transport crews and equipment in and out of the continent. It works with other nations for aerial observation, for which it has a Xueying 601 plane, but it does not have its own airstrip.
Actual work on the site will likely begin after the 34th expedition starts its mission later this year. The 33rd Antarctic expedition, with 328 members, has returned to its base in Shanghai last Tuesday. The mission conducted scientific research and experiments around the four bases. The two vessels that carried the team, the Xuelong icebreaker and Haiyang 6, also carried out oceanographic and geological research.
Meanwhile, China has also reportedly selected a location for its fifth Antarctic station, China Daily noted, citing Lin Shanqing, the deputy head of State Oceanic Administration. The proposed station will reportedly be built near the Ross Sea, with construction slated to start in 2018.