Beijing, Sep 25:  China for the first time will deploy a US-built transport aircraft as part of its latest expedition of the resource-rich Antarctica region, where the Communist giant has stepped up its presence with five research stations. The fixed-wing Basler BT-67, named Snow Eagle 601, will operate supply runs and other logistics missions for expedition teams within a radius of 1,300-kilometre around China’s Zhongshan Station in Antarctica, said Qin Weijia, deputy head of the administration. The expedition is set to take off next month.

The US-built aircraft will also serve as a transport link between Zhongshan and Kunlun stations and nearby stations of other countries, Qin was quoted as saying by state-run Xinhua news agency. China has increased its presence in Antarctica by building two more research stations taking the total number to five. Since China lacks aircraft operation experience in the virtually uninhabited Antarctica region — an ice-covered landmass and site of the South Pole — the plane will be operated by Canadian airliner Kenn Borek Air. (Also Read: Rare pink diamond may fetch USD 28 million at Geneva auction)

The aircraft can fly at a speed of 380 km/hour with a maximum payload of 5,900 kilogrammes. It will have research equipment which will include an ice radar system, airborne gravimetre, airborne magnetometre and onboard laser-radar system. In its maiden journey, Snow Eagle 601 will take off from Canada, fly over South America and land at the Rothera Research Station of the United Kingdom as the first stop.

Then it will fly to the Zhongshan Station via a short stop at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station of the United States. Afterwards it will make a flight to the Kunlun Station, at about 4,000 metres above the sea level near Dome A. A Chinese expedition team will arrive at the Kunlun Station before the plane to build a runaway for it. It will not spend the winter in Antarctica but return to Canada, the report said.