Yesterday a Lufthansa A350-900 completed an ultra long-haul flight from Hamburg to Mt. Pleasant, in the Falkland Islands. The 15 hour 37 minute flight was Lufthansa’s longest ever. The plane will be heading back to Germany tomorrow, as LH2575. Sadly this isn’t destined to become a regularly scheduled route (wouldn’t that be something.) But it did make us curious to look a little deeper into aviation in the Falklands – and for such a small place, there’s a lot going on there.
Easily within range for the A350
In fact as ultra long-hauls go, this flight was only mildly impressive. It was a record-setter for Lufthansa, but these days it’s not uncommon to see airlines doing 19- or 20-hour flights with their A350s. However the fact that this was headed to the Falklands (the first leg for a group of scientists making their way to Antarctica) caught the attention of many an aviation enthusiast.
Lufthansa flight #LH2574 has landed at Mount Pleasant Airport. Flight time 15 hours and 37 minutes.
The scientists will now transfer to a boat that will take them to Antarctica.
— Flightradar24 (@flightradar24) February 1, 2021
Mt. Pleasant Airport (MPN) is also known as “RAF Mt. Pleasant,” so-called because it’s a Royal Air Force base. Just the mention of the Falkland Islands is sure to set off a volley of political arguments, and the fact of this being a British air base probably doesn’t help.
For the uninitiated, Argentina claims these islands as their own, and refers to them as Las Malvinas. There was a war fought over them in the 1980s. It’s a messy dispute that mostly simmers quietly under the surface, usually until someone mentions the islands in conversation. It’s surprisingly sensitive for a place with a total population only just slightly more than 3,000 people.
All about Mt. Pleasant Airport
Mt. Pleasant Airport may be an air force base, but it also sees scheduled commercial flights. That’s because it has by far the longest runways on the island – with an 8497-foot (2590-meter) strip that can handle just about any type of aircraft. Scheduled flights to MPN are relatively few in number these days. With normal non-pandemic schedules in effect it’s generally possible to fly with LATAM to Mt. Pleasant from Chile and Brazil.
The longest-running flight is the link with Punta Arenas in Chile, although that hasn’t operated in some time. LATAM has this flight back in their schedule once a week starting in April, although the Falkland Islands Government has stated these won’t start back up again until late June (thanks to Ronnie MB for pointing this out). Flight time on the A320 to Punta Arenas, whenever it does start up again, is about an hour and a half.
Military “Airbridge” flights between the UK and the Falklands
Mt. Pleasant is also the destination for a special flight known as the “airbridge” operated by AirTanker in cooperation with the British Ministry of Defence. It departs RAF Brize Norton (BZZ) in England and heads to Mt. Pleasant, normally via a stop somewhere along the way. In the past Ascension Island has been the go-to tech stop. Lately it seems the planes mostly route through Dakar.
These flights have actually been flown nonstop, although that doesn’t seem to be a regular occurrence. Last year AirTanker ran a handful of nonstop proving flights on one of its A330-200s, G-VYGM, between Brize Norton and Mt. Pleasant. The southbound flight was 15 hours 9 minutes long – just a little bit shorter than yesterday’s Lufthansa flight. As it happens, G-VYGM is on the ground at Mt. Pleasant as we speak, having come in from Brize Norton and Dakar on February 1.
One of two Falklands airports (plus several airstrips)
The Falklands has another main airport not too far (30 miles as the crow flies) from Mt. Pleasant, at Port Stanley (PSY). Stanley is the main population center and capital of the Falklands. However the longest runway is just 3,013 feet (918 meters), so scheduled flights stick to MPN.
Its airport is used mainly for short runs around the Falklands to airstrips serving remote communities. The Falkland Islands Government Air Service is the main player here – it does double duty running Britten-Norman BN-2 Islanders on mostly unscheduled civilian flights as well as running surveillance and maritime patrol around the territory. Port Stanley also occasionally sees flights to and from British research stations in Antarctica, and helicopter services out to the Zebedee Oil Rig.
A place for the travel wishlist
It’s not easy or cheap to get to the Falkland Islands, especially from the Northern Hemisphere. However it would clearly be worth the effort, especially for anyone interested in aviation. I’ll be adding this to my list of places to go once we can all move around freely again. And I’ll be doing everything I can to catch a flight on one of those Islanders.