China is building eight new airports annually and according to the World Economic Forum that will take its total to 260 by 2020. However, the trickiest and most unusual airport the country is building is not in China itself. Instead it is situated at the South Pole.
Last week a Chinese expeditionary team took off on its special Antarctic plane the Snow Dragon to begin work on a permanent airport 28km from China’s Zhongshan Station scientific facility. China uses the site in Antarctica for meteorigical research and has said the new airport will make it easier for personnel to get to and from the station. “The new airport allows medium and large transport aircraft, like Boeing planes, to take off and land in the South Pole, shortening transport time as well as enhancing efficiency,” Zhang Xia, director of the Polar Strategy Centre at the Polar Research Institute of China, told the Global Times.
Building a suitable runway in Antarctica is not without its engineering challenges, but the Global Times points out that China is not the first to build an aiport at the South Pole. It says there are more than 50 air fields in the Antarctic continent, 10 of which have runways longer than 3,000 metres. The US owns 13 of them, with Russia ranking second with eight, according to the newspaper.