There are no commercial flight routes over Antarctica due to the continent’s lack of infrastructure and virtually non-existent population.

Antarctica also has extreme weather that makes it difficult to fly and land on the continent.

Despite these difficulties, tourist flights to Antarctica are becoming increasingly popular, but these tourist flights normally don’t involve landing on the continent itself. 

You can theoretically fly over Antarctica, but it’s rarely done due to there being very few viable reasons to do so.

Flying close to the South Pole has historically been discouraged by Extended-range Twin-engine Operational Performance Standard rules. 

Even contemporarily, most airspace above Antarctica is difficult to reach for most aircraft.

Flying over Antarctica is also difficult due to technical problems related to the weather, magnetic poles, and a lack of infrastructure in Antarctica. 

4 Reasons You Can’t Fly Over Antarctica

Here are the 4 biggest reasons you can’t fly over Antarctica. 

1. Weather Conditions

Antarctica has a hostile climate and dangerous weather conditions.

Antarctica has some of the world’s most extreme temperatures, and it takes months of special training to prepare people to just stay on the continent.

The icy mountains of Antarctica

Planes can be de-iced under extreme conditions, but it costs upwards of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

De-icing can also be complicated because of electrical heating systems.

In cold weather conditions, planes also have very short time periods for de-icing and safely flying over Antarctica. 

2. Visibility Issues

Antarctica has generally poor visibility due to snowfall and whiteouts.

It’s also extremely dangerous for planes to fly under snowfall.

Pilots have to maintain constant contact with ground authorities to ensure proper flight path and trajectory. 

Weather phenomena in Antarctica like whiteouts and tundras both make it difficult for pilots to see and disrupt communications with ground authorities.

plane in poor visibility

Storms in Antarctica also threaten aerial visibility on the continent and make it difficult for pilots to effectively navigate. 

3. Lack of Infrastructure

There is little to no infrastructure in Antarctica, including no towers, airports, or any other structures that could assist with communication or navigation.

The absence of infrastructure makes flying over Antarctica equivalent to flying over the ocean

Yet, flying over Antarctica could even be more difficult than flying over the ocean, since the ocean has better visibility and established flight paths.

Antarctica has no flight paths due to weather conditions and no infrastructure to assist with landing anywhere on the continent. 

4. Navigation Concerns

Navigating polar regions is particularly complicated due to concerns from magnetic fields.

These magnetic fields interfere with aircraft magnetic navigational tools.

Antarctica’s isolated nature further makes it difficult for planes to communicate with Air Traffic Control (ATC), further rendering navigation difficult.

The Antarctic Treaty of 1961 Forbids Flights Over Antarctic

The Antarctic Treaty of 1961 bans all military activity on the continent except for peaceful purposes like delivering supplies or rescuing scientific personnel.

Decision makers at the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting
Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting 1961

However, the last military flight to Antarctica was in 2006 when a Royal New Zealand Air Force aircraft conducted a trial flight to the continent.

4 Exceptions to Planes Flying Over Antarctica

Although flying over Antarctica is generally difficult, there are exceptions. 

1. Researchers and Research Oriented Flights

Hundreds of researchers journey to Antarctica every year for monitoring the climate and conducting geographical research.

These researchers also study Antarctica’s ecology.

There are also numerous flights to Antarctica for collecting data and deploying data sensors.

2. Military Reasons

The Antarctic Treaty of 1961 bans all military activity on the continent except for peaceful purposes like delivering supplies or rescuing scientific personnel.

However, the last military flight to Antarctica was in 2006 when a Royal New Zealand Air Force aircraft conducted a trial flight to the continent.

3. Rescue Operations

Rescue flights to Antarctica occur in case of dire medical emergencies for tourists and researchers.

These flights evacuate personnel to the closest relevant health facilities in the world. 

4. Scenic Tourism

There are tourist organizations in Australia and New Zealand that provide scenic tourism services to Antarctica.

A Scenic Tourism plane on the snow in Antarctica

Although these flights don’t land on the continent itself, they fly at low altitudes to let passengers view the Antarctic surface.

Has Anyone Ever Flown Over Antarctica?

Flights to Antarctica already occur and are increasing every year, with tourism to Antarctica becoming more and more popular.

Tourism flights to Antarctica mostly take off from countries close to the Arctic Circle, like Chile.

These flights often don’t involve landing an aircraft on the continent, but some tourism companies do enable tourists to step foot on Antarctica. 

There are also certain airstrips used by researchers for flying into and out of the continent, but they’re not used all year-round.

These airstrips are also mostly located near Antarctica’s coasts.

For example, an Airbus A139 flight landed in Antarctica for a medical evacuation.

Airbus A319 In Antarctica
The Airbus A319 that Landed In Antarctica

The plane was flown by Australia’s Antarctic Division.

How Long it Takes to Fly Over Antarctica

Normally, chartered Antarctic flights last over 12 hours.

It takes 3 to 4 hours to reach the polar ice caps from either Australia or South America.

It would take almost 16 hours for a flight to cross from Australia into Antarctica and into Argentina.

Around 10 hours of this flight time would be spent flying directly over Antarctica.

Why Flights Over Antarctica May Become More Common

Advancements in aircraft technology are continually reshaping the aviation industry, which means that in the future it may become more common to fly over Antarctica.

  • More Efficient Aircraft: As aviation moves toward greater sustainability, the emissions and fuel consumption of aircraft are decreasing. As environmental concerns are of a particular concern in Antarctica, this may mean travel to the continent will become more common.
  • Alternative Fuels: Research into alternative aviation fuels, such as biofuels and synthetic fuels, is at an all-time high. As these fuels have the potential to reduce the carbon footprint of flights, they may in the future meet the region’s stringent environmental regulations. Electric and hybrid-electric aircraft in particular will become more common, which means zero-emission flights.

Antarctica scenery with penguins

  • Enhanced Navigation and Communication: Due to advances in avionics and satellite communication systems, navigation accuracy and communication reliability will only continue to improve. This is crucial when flying over remote regions like Antarctica, where traditional ground-based navigation aids are limited.

Planes Fly Over the North Pole Though

Planes rarely fly over Antarctica, but they do regularly fly over the North Pole.

Popular flight destinations like from Dubai to Los Angeles or New York to Hong Kong or New Delhi to San Francisco all fly over the North Pole.

Flying over the North Pole is safe due to the active population centers and infrastructure in the North Pole.

In conclusion:

  • You could fly over Antarctica if you wanted to.
  • Tourist flights to Antarctica are becoming increasingly popular these days, but these flights usually don’t land on the continent itself.
  • It’s difficult to fly over or in Antarctica due to the lack of infrastructure and population centers in the South Pole.
  • Weather conditions in the South Pole also make flying difficult in Antarctica, so there aren’t many flights over the continent. 

See Also:

Ella Dunham, a Freelance Travel Journalist and Marketing Manager, boasts an impressive career spanning eight years in the travel and tourism sectors.

Honored as one of "30 Under 30" by TTG Media (the world’s very first weekly travel trade newspaper), a "Tour Operator Travel Guru" and "Legend Award" winner, Ella is also a Fellow of the Institute of Travel, a Member of the Association of Women Travel Executives, has completed over 250 travel modules, and hosts travel-focused segments on national radio shows where she provides insights on travel regulations and destinations.

Ella has visited over 40 countries (with 10 more planned this year).