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Aussies launch first NZ sight-seeing flights to Antarctica since Erebus

Tuesday 4th September 2012

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The first sightseeing flights to Antarctica from New Zealand since the Mt Erebus disaster 33 years ago are on offer from an Australian airline, which says it's responding to demand from kiwis for a service it has run from Melbourne for the last 18 years.

It's almost 33 years since an Air New Zealand DC10 carrying 257 passengers and crew flew into the side of Mt Erebus with loss of all lives in New Zealand's worst aviation disaster, on Nov. 28, 1979.

Antarctica Sightseeing Flights, a private charter firm operated by Qantas, has been offering flights from Melbourne since 1994 and has taken some 31,000 people to the ice and back, using a Boeing 747-400ER that can carry 364 passengers.

It plans its first New Zealand flight next February, flying from Auckland to the Antarctic continent for $1,599 for economy class and $9,299 for an up-market 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," said Asker. "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 flight to the ice was also an activity international tourists would often include in a trip to New Zealand or Australia.

"It's a very easy day," he said of the 12 hour flight, which includes four hours flying above the Antarctic continent on one of 19 flight paths pilots can choose from, depending on weather conditions, and includes on-board commentary from Antarctic experts and expeditioners.

The planes will fly no lower than 10,000 feet above sea level or 2,000 feet higher than the highest ground for a radius of 180 kilometres (100 nautical miles).

Pricing is graduated in seven stages, with the cheapest option being an aisle seat there and back, for $1,599. A ticket allowing a swap at halfway between a middle seat and the window is $2,600, and a "superior" economy seat towards the rear of the plane and clear of the wings for best viewing, is $3,700.

"We don't operate in the Erebus region," said Tasker.

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