Press release

Federal Ministry of Education and Research finances new polar aircraft for use in the Arctic and Antarctic

[01. November 2010] 

The German Federal Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF) is financing a new aircraft for research purposes: “Polar 6” will reinforce the scientific and logistic operations of the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in the Helmholtz Association in the polar regions starting autumn 2011. For the first time it will then be possible to carry out flight missions in the Arctic and Antarctic at the same time. Polar 6, like Polar 5, which has been in operation since October 2007, will be a Basler BT-67. On high-ranking international flight missions it has achieved top results in the fields of geophysics, glaciology and atmosphere research.

“The practical experience with Polar 5 shows that we made the right choice in picking the Basler BT-67 as the aircraft model. Particularly the modifications on the aircraft for scientific flight operations according to our specifications have proven to be outstanding. We were able to perform research tasks that were inconceivable in the past and have thus gained important new insights into the climate system and glaciology in the polar regions,” says Dr. Uwe Nixdorf, head of the Logistics Department at the Alfred Wegener Institute.

Since there are only a few polar aircraft with this equipment worldwide, however, the demand for flight time on the part of German groups of researchers as well as foreign cooperation partners has risen to an increasing extent. “With only one aircraft we can no longer meet all demands,” states Nixdorf. Polar 6 will therefore be equipped with a comparable configuration as Polar 5. On the one hand, measurement flights in the Arctic and Antarctic can thus take off with two aircraft at the same time and, on the other hand, operations can be carried out in certain seasons both in the Arctic and Antarctic with one aircraft each in order to study seasonal processes.

By means of the two aircraft, scientists will carry out large-scale measurements of sea ice distribution and atmospheric physics in the Arctic and launch flight missions over the entire inland ice of Antarctica in the areas of geophysics, meteorology and atmospheric physics. Both are of outstanding importance for validating satellite missions and modelling climate change.

“We will understand climate change properly only if we know more about the Earth system. Especially the interrelationships and interactions between land, ocean, biosphere, atmosphere and the ice masses have to be understood better. In view of the rapidly changing environmental conditions in the polar regions, primarily in the Arctic as a key region, it is of paramount importance to maintain a high-performance and flexibly deployable aircraft fleet. This is shown not least of all by the fact other nations are also expanding their polar aircraft capacity. With a second plane we will be able to guarantee an excellent polar infrastructure in the future, too,” explains Prof. Karin Lochte, director of the Alfred Wegener Institute.

The new polar aircraft can be configured appropriately for the scientific and logistic needs of the Alfred Wegener Institute right from the production stage. Technical details were discussed recently in Bremerhaven. The flight-related features of Polar 6 enable unrestricted deployment in Antarctica with takeoffs from all points on the inland ice up to altitudes of over 4,000 metres. Its range will make simultaneous flight missions at different flying altitudes possible, particularly in regions of the Arctic Ocean far from the coast. Other features include structural advantages like a nearly unlimited lifetime, rugged ski landing gear for landings on unprepared snow and ice areas, more space for installing scientific instruments as well as relatively easy maintenance.

The total costs of the project come to € 9.775 million, Polar 6 costs around € 8 million and then there are the expenses for scientific equipment, modification and registration. The new aircraft will be based at the Bremerhaven regional airport. The Alfred Wegener Institute will plan the use of the aircraft while Kenn Borek Air Ltd. will carry out flight operations from Germany.

Research in the polar regions requires special equipment and logistics as access to the research areas is very difficult due to the extreme environmental conditions. Measurements from the air are advantageous precisely because large areas can be covered. Use of research aircraft is a major link between ground investigations and studies via satellite. The Alfred Wegener Institute has been employing polar aircraft for research in the Arctic and Antarctic for over 25 years. Polar 1, a Dornier 128, launched its missions in 1983. Since then the composition of the fleet has constantly further developed. 


Notes for editorial offices:

Your contacts at the Alfred Wegener Institute are Dr. Uwe Nixdorf (tel.: 0471 4831-1160; e-mail: as well as in the Communication and Media Department Stephanie von Neuhoff (tel.: 0471 4831-2008; e-mail:


The Alfred Wegener Institute conducts research in the Arctic, Antarctic and oceans of the high and mid latitudes. It coordinates polar research in Germany and provides major infrastructure to the international scientific community, such as the research icebreaker Polarstern and stations in the Arctic and Antarctica. The Alfred Wegener Institute is one of the sixteen research centres of the Helmholtz Association, the largest scientific organisation in Germany.


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Das Institut

Das Alfred-Wegener-Institut forscht in den Polarregionen und Ozeanen der mittleren und hohen Breiten. Als eines von 19 Forschungszentren der Helmholtz-Gemeinschaft koordiniert es Deutschlands Polarforschung und stellt Schiffe wie den Forschungseisbrecher Polarstern und Stationen für die internationale Wissenschaft zur Verfügung.