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Up in the air

Air Greenland says that it has plenty of political support for its Iqaluit-Nuuk route. But what it needs in order to continue next year is a subsidy
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When Air Greenland’s characteristic red and white turbo-prop departs Iqaluit on September 12, it could mark more than just a noisy farewell to a disappointing summer season.

Officials with the nationally controlled airline say that after losing money on the service in all three years it has operated the Iqaluit-Nuuk summer route they are unlikely to resume flights in 2015.

This year’s service, which began in June, was scheduled to run until September 15. The last of the twice-weekly flights left Iqaluit on August 22. Air Greenland says it has scheduled two additional Iqaluit departures, on September 8 and 12, but after that the future remains up in the air.

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Air Greenland had, from the start, expected that the service would take three years to establish itself. And some of the flights this year have had enough passengers for them to break even, but the airline has been far from its target of filling 70 percent of all departures.

“On the whole, the route is underperforming,” Chrisitan Keldsen, an Air Greenland spokesperson, told AG, a Greenlandic newspaper operated by this website’s parent company.

One reason for the route’s lack of business may be its small market: the two cities have a combined population of just over 20,000. Keldsen, however, said slower-than-expected development in the oil and mineral industries in Greenland had also hurt.

Air Greenland started the route in 2012 on the expectation that it would provide an alternative to the charter flights used by oil and mining firms to transport staff, but with no active mines and no oil drilling being conducted, that portion of the passenger base remains only theoretical.

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The route had also hoped to capitalise on cultural and familial ties between Greenland and Iqaluit, but many of those travellers may be priced out by the C$1,100 ($1,000) cost of a return ticket.

Tourism, too, was eyed as a leg that could support the service, and this year Air Greenland had struck a deal with First Air, a Canadian airline, to co-ordinate connecting flights from southern Canada and provide a rebate for passengers travelling onward to Nuuk. Price, though, still remained an issue.

Although the summer flights facilitate some types of travel, such as tourism, it is the low season for political and business travel, which Keldsen reckoned could account for some of the lack of interest.

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Air Greenland may have also misjudged the level of support the route had among decision-makers in Nuuk.

Unlike its domestic routes, Air Greenland’s Iqaluit-Nuuk service has not been subsidised. Keldsen said he had been led to believe that would change in 2015, but no money has been set aside for the route in next year’s national budget.

That stands in contrast to the symbolism attached to the route by the governments in Nuuk and Iqaluit. And as recently as June, Aleqa Hammond, Greenland’s premier, and Peter Taptuna, Nunavut’s elected leader, during a meeting in Nuuk, stated that maintaining a route was in their common interest.

But without such funding, it is hard do see how the service could continue next year. Air Greenland, Keldsen underscored, did not want to throw away money on an unprofitable route. It would appear that his political masters feel the same way.