Thursday May 25, 2017

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Airports in Greenland

Winds of change

The political winds are in favour of revamping Greenland’s airport infrastructure. The resistance on the ground is somewhat stiffer
Red and white and everyone laid over (Photo: Air Greenland)

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Greenland’s government has been given the go-ahead by Inatitsisartut, the national assembly, to proceed with plans to overhaul the country’s airport infrastructure.

A 2 billion kroner ($290 million) proposal, put forward last month, calls for five airports to serve as the primary hubs for domestic and international aeroplane traffic. Improvements at heliports would also be made.

After receiving a 25-1 vote in favour of making changes to the current air-transport network, Naalakkersuisut, the elected government, now has a mandate to come up with a final plan for Inatsisartut to vote on.

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The next step, expected to be taken in January, will be for the Infrastructure Ministry to establish a panel to to study the best way to modernise the airport infrastructure.

Their decision, according to Knud Kristiansen, the infrastructure minister, will likely see runway extensions in Nuuk, the capital, and Ilulissat, a major tourist destination, getting underway in 2016 as the first step in the plan. Construction of two new airports and the renovation of a third would follow.

Nuuk and Ilulissat would likely be the first two airports to receive an upgrade in the form a longer runway. Those two airports will receive priority, according to Mr Kristiansen, because both extensions have already been thoroughly studied and are likely to see only minor changes. (The final length of the Nuuk runway, is still being hotly discussed.)

Extending the runways at those two airports would also have the biggest economic impact, and the additional income would be used to find less profitable improvements.

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The government’s preferred plan would see Nuuk and Ilulissat serve as the country’s international gateways. The runway extensions, which would more than double the total length of each one, would allow the airports to handle intercontinental jetliners.

Opponents have raised a number of concerns, including the impact on Kangerlussuaq, a town of 500 or so that is currently the site of the primary international airport. Without the airport, local officials say, the town is unlikely to survive. They also note that plans are already in the works to upgrade port facilities there to make it easier for cruise ship passengers to transfer from their flights.

Another persistent argument in favour of keeping Kangerlussuaq as the international gateway is the relatively stable weather in the area. While inclement weather forces the closure of Nuuk as many as 50 days a year, Kangerlussuaq, located at the foot of a fjord, and originally built by the US military, generally remains open all but a few days each year.

As if to punctuate this fact: a recent snowstorm forced the closure of all the airports on Greenland’s western coast, except Kangerlussuaq, for three days.