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Milestone as China flies tourists to the South Pole

December 21, 2017 Headline News No Comments Email Email

China is the world’s biggest source of tourists and Antarctica is the planet’s last great unspoiled wilderness – so the news that China’s first commercial flight to Antarctica has taken tourists to the South Pole is unlikely to fill conservationists with delight.

It’s hardly mass tourism – yet. The flight conveyed 22 tourists on a 15-hour flight from Hong Kong to Cape Town, then another five and a half hours to Antarctica. From there, it was another five to six hours to the South Pole, where the flight landed on a 2.5-kilometre runway carved into the ice.

Chinese newspapers described the route as the beginning of a new era in tourism to Antarctica. The company behind it, Deer Jet, said that now the new route exists, “Deer Jet will add the Antarctic continent to its travel itineraries”.

The Deer Jet plane on the Antarctic ice

The arrival of one the company’s private jets at Wolfs Fang airport marked a new charter service between China and the Antarctic, a statement from the carrier said.

The statement continued: “Deer Jet is known for its pioneering role in transforming business aviation in Asia and around the world. More than 22 years ago the company was established as the first private jet operator in China and transformed itself from humble beginnings to its current position as the largest business aviation group in Asia.

“Deer Jet’s Antarctic landing is a more than a milestone for China’s business aviation. This operation is also a significant contribution for the development of international air travel and transportation, providing access to the world’s most remote areas.

Antarctica, We are here! Deer Jet celebrates its achievement

“For this challenging flight, Deer Jet prepared for over a year, conducting and evaluating hundreds of risks, flight routes, flight support and emergency plans to ensure a safe flight. This level of precision and attention to detail is what made Deer Jet the first World’s Seven Star Private Jet Company.”

The plane, operated by Hainan Airlines, was a Deer Jet Gulfstream G650 aircraft. Hainan Airlines is the only Chinese airline rated five-star by SKYTRAX for seven consecutive years. 

The BBC reported that the leg from Cape Town onwards was organised by South Africa-based White Desert, “a tour operator who offers such trips to the pole on a regular basis”, meaning the breakthrough was in fact a cooperative venture between a Chinese tour organiser and one of the established players based in South Africa.


Scientists are keen to keep Antarctica as protected and pristine as possible. The thought of an oil spill, or mass tourism, sends a shudder up many spines. Almost all tourists to Antarctica arrive by ship – usually from Argentina’s southernmost port of Ushuaia, or from New Zealand.

Tourism to Antarctica is not new. The all-time high was 46,265 visitors in the 2007-2008 season. The main source is the US, but the second-biggest source is  China.

Antarctica compared in size to Australia


The global financial crisis put a dent in the numbers, then visitation started to creep up again. Direct commercial air links would see numbers go through the roof, with richer, older travellers wanting to tick off a bucket list destination.

One of the biggest surprises about Antarctica is its enormous size. It’s much bigger than Australia: over 13 million square kilometres compared with 7.7 million square kilometres for Australia. The map above shows the comparative sizes. The names Mawson, Davis and Casey on the east coast are the three  permanent research stations that the Australian Antarctic Division maintains on the Antarctic continent.

Written by Peter Needham

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