New era for polar research takes wing in £290m upgrade programme



British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge has agreed a deal for a replacement aircraft for polar research as part of a £290 million scientific upgrade strategy.


The procurement will ensure that BAS continues to provide transport between South America or the Falkland Islands to its research station at Rothera, Antarctica. This is the main route for scientists and support staff as well as cargo ferried to and from Antarctica.


The replacement aircraft is being extensively modified by Oklahoma-based supplier, Field Aerospace, to suit BAS’s need to operate in extreme environments. It is scheduled to be delivered by April 2024.


The Antarctic Infrastructure Modernisation Programme (AIMP) is transforming how BAS conducts frontier science. Commissioned by the Natural Environment Research Council, this long-term programme provides a world-leading capability to ensure that Britain remains at the forefront of climate, biodiversity and ocean research in the polar regions.


The AIMP represents the largest Government investment in polar science infrastructure since the 1980s and has seen the commissioning of the new polar research ship, RRS Sir David Attenborough.


BAS is replacing the existing Dash 7 Short Take Off and Landing (STOL) aircraft as it is nearing the end of its effective life.


Globally the Dash7 fleet is now in single figures and support and spares provision are increasingly challenging. A contract has been signed for a replacement – a Dash 8 series 314 aircraft.


This is part of a wider investment of £290m which will provide up-to-date aircraft facilities to ensure cargo, scientists and support staff can be transported easily to Antarctic research stations.


Professor Dame Jane Francis, director of the British Antarctic Survey, said: “The procurement of this replacement aircraft will ensure that the British Antarctic Survey can continue to provide air transport capability to Antarctica. The investment enables us to carry out world-leading scientific research in the polar regions.”