Air Transport

Intercontinental Flights

ALE services an intercontinental air bridge between Punta Arenas, Chile and the Ellsworth Mountains, West Antarctica. Weekly, scheduled passenger and cargo flights run from November through January, using an Ilyushin IL-76 TD transport aircraft with a flight time of 4 1/4 hours.

All flights depart from Presidente Carlos Ibañez del Campo airport (PUQ/SCCI) in Punta Arenas and land at Union Glacier ice runway (SCGC). Flights hold 60 passengers or two shipping containers volume of cargo, with a total capacity of 17,500 kg. Dedicated flights can be arranged for large groups of passengers or cargo. All flights are weather dependent.

Flight Schedule


Ilyushin IL-76 TD

The IL-76 was originally conceived for delivering heavy machinery to remote, poorly-serviced areas of the USSR. As such it needed to meet the requirements for a heavy-lift freighter with good speed and range, able to operate from short and unprepared airstrips, and capable of coping with the worst weather conditions likely to be experienced in Siberia and the Soviet Union’s Arctic regions.

The IL-76 has seen extensive service as a commercial freighter, especially for oversized or heavy items unable to be otherwise carried. An onboard crane can self-load and offload items up to 10 tonne, without the need for specialized airport equipment. The IL-76 has been used as emergency response transport for civilian evacuations and to deliver humanitarian/disaster relief aid around the world, especially to undeveloped areas due to its ability to operate from unpaved runways. The IL-76TD has a greater range and load capacity than the original IL-76.

Internal Flights

Flights beyond Union Glacier are by ski aircraft. Each season we contract two de Havilland DHC-6 Twin Otters and a Basler BT-67 aircraft which operate from ALE’s Union Glacier camp. We maintain pre-placed fuel caches to support ski aircraft operations throughout West Antarctica and always have a minimum of two ski aircraft on the continent, to provide complete self-sufficiency for normal operations and for emergency response.

Twin Otter in flight by Adam Ungar

De Haviland DHC-6 Twin Otter

Ski-equipped Twin Otters are a staple in Antarctic aviation. They are used by ALE, the British Antarctic Survey, the United States Antarctic Program, as well as the Argentine and Chilean air force. The DHC-6 probably needs no introduction to most people. This twin engine, turbo-prop, STOL (short take-off and landing) aircraft is used throughout the world to access remote locations on wheels, floats, tundra tires and skis. Their rugged landing gear and STOL characteristics allow them to take off and land where other aircraft cannot. From coastal resorts and remote communities to the Arctic and Antarctic wilderness, the Twin Otter provides reliable and versatile passenger and cargo transport.

Basler by Russ Hepburn

Basler BT-67

Our larger ski aircraft is the Basler BT-67, a turboprop conversion of the Douglas DC-3. The Basler is quickly becoming the Antarctic aircraft of choice for transporting larger groups of passengers and larger cargo items into the field. Named “The Travel Product of the Century” by FORTUNE©, the Douglas DC-3 revolutionized air travel. The high-performance STOL aircraft is versatile, tough, simple and spacious. Its usefulness has been proven in every imaginable application, from passenger and cargo to military and special purpose missions. The Basler conversion replaces original piston engines with reliable Pratt and Whitney PT6A-67R turbine engines, extends the fuselage, adds de-icing and other improvements. Learn more about the BT-67.

Air Support

Airfield Support

ALE maintains runways for both wheel and ski aircraft at Union Glacier and provides a variety of support services for National Antarctic Program aircraft. These range from weather observations and forecasts for aircraft in transit; to cargo handling for intercontinental flights; an alternative landing strip and airfield support in case of bad weather; and providing a full-service hub from which ski aircraft are deployed to field locations each day. All airfield support must be arranged in advance.

Cargo Handling

The Ilyushin onboard-crane can lift items up to 10 tonne and our sled-mounted Hammar Lift side loader lifts items up to 25 tonne. A Hiab crane, fitted on one of our Tucker Sno-Cats, self-loads items around camp.

Large capacity cargo sleds, loading decks, bulk fuel tanks and a specially manufactured container allow us to move large volumes of heavy cargo efficiently, both at Union Glacier and in the deep-field, including 20 foot containers, passenger luggage, camp supplies and fuel.


ALE has two sled-mounted TriMax 120 Super-CAF (compressed aspirated foam) systems, one with a Berner 500 lb dry chem extinguisher, in case of large-scale aircraft fire. Two smaller TM30s are available for firefighting in camp or at the nearby skiway.

Skiway Preparation

By special arrangement we can groom a snow runway (skiway) at your deep-field project site. This is usually done in conjunction with delivery of large/heavy cargo to the site by ALE tractor-train.


ALE re-supplies field teams and pre-place caches by air and by overland traverse. Our strategic location and the size of our operation help us provide cost-effective options for large and small projects. Smaller re-supplies are generally placed by ski aircraft. Where possible we combine re-supplies for several groups or include cargo on one of our scheduled program flights.

ALE also has experience with large-scale airdrops using the Ilyushin 76. Each flight delivers approximately 17 tonnes of cargo, which may include food, fuel, and equipment. We work with an expert airdrop crew from the Russian Rescue Center in Moscow, with an ALE ground crew providing assistance and collecting the loads and platforms at the airdrop site.

Permitting and Safety

ALE’s aircraft operations are authorized by the Chilean Civil Aviation Authority (DGAC) and are permitted by the US Department of State. All aircraft and crew comply with international standards on safety and operations.

All aircraft are fitted with tracking beacons, which allow us to follow their real-time progress while they are in-flight. We also maintain regular voice contact, taking position reports and providing regular weather updates.

Photos from Air Transport
Related Posts

Sign up for the newsletter

Thanks for Signing Up!