A TOURISM operator is offering the first commercial flight from New Zealand to Antarctica – 33 years after an Air New Zealand plane crashed into Mt Erebus killing all 257 on board.
Antarctica Sightseeing Flights will take a chartered Boeing 747 from Auckland to the continent in February next year.
The day trip, using a Qantas jumbo jet, will be the first time a commercial flight has left New Zealand for Antarctica since a DC10 crashed on November 28, 1979.
It is New Zealand’s worst aviation disaster. Air New Zealand cut flights to the continent immediately and Qantas followed suit in 1980.
Two flights taking family members of those killed on Flight 901 have visited the frozen land mass since 2009, including 104 on an RNZAF flight last year, and a third and final flight is planned in February 2013.
The tourism operator has been operating flights from Australia since 1994, carrying 31,000 passengers, including more than 1000 New Zealanders.
Seats on the flight from Auckland start at $NZ1599 ($A1,255) for economy class and $NZ9299 for a premium option, called “Ice Class”.
Chief executive Phil Asker said Antarctica Sightseeing Flights was “very sensitive” to the fact the Erebus disaster still loomed large for New Zealanders, despite the passage of time, but took into account evidence that Kiwis want to make the flight.
“New Zealand interest has increased markedly in the last four or five years,” Mr Asker told BusinessDesk.
“We’re aware there’s great sensitivity, but we thought the time was right to come into New Zealand because we are certainly seeing that demand.”
The planes will fly no lower than 3048 metres above sea level or 610m higher than the highest ground for a radius of 185km.
“We don’t operate in the Erebus region,” said Mr Asker.