Greenland is the biggest island in the world that has 57,000 inhabitants who all mainly live on the west coast. The island boasts only one commercial airport that is capable of accommodating widebodies, which is not even located in the capital city but north of it, in Kangerlussuaq. This is about to change drastically in 2024.

Photo of the A332 owned by Air Greenland
Photo of the A332 owned by Air Greenland © Sunil Gupta

Kalaallit Airports and its projects

Kalaallit Airports is a consortium born from 3 different sister companies: Kalaallit Airports Holding A/S, Kalaallit Airports International A/S, and Kalaallit Airports Domestic A/S. The Danish state has one-third (33.3%) of the share of the company, becoming a co-owner. It has 3 main ongoing projects, 2 airport expansion plans in Nuuk (the capital city) and Ilullisat, and a new airport in Qaqortoq, in the southeast of the country. The expansion projects are due in 2024, and the new airport project in Qaqortoq is due in 2025.

In Nuuk, the project consists of the extension of the old runway, from a mere 955 meters, according to the info retrieved on the AIP of Denmark, to 2200 meters, capable of accommodating any common narrow-body jetliner, plus some widebody aircraft with low-density configurations, like Air Greenland’s A330 or Icelandair’s 757 and 767. There is also the plan to demolish the old terminal and to build a new one, responsible for the transit of a total of 800 passengers at the same time.

The expansion in Ilulissat is the same as in Nuuk, same runway length and new infrastructures, but the terminal capacity will be 600 passengers at a time.

Instead, the new airport in Qaqortoq will serve a community of 3,035, and works have yet to start. For the moment only the contractor for building the runway has been announced: Pennecon Heavy Civil, a Canadian engineering company.

©Kalaallit Airports Group
3D rendering of the new Ilulissat airports ©Kalaallit Airports Group

Joy and fear over this project

There are a lot of things to reflect on and think about when it comes to this project, and things may take an unexpected turn when it comes to politics. Let’s start with the positive side: spread all along the internet, there are tons of comments from actual travel experts and locals that state that those new airports will benefit tourism and it is a great opportunity for Greenland to increase its influence and economic independence. According to this side of the discussion, tourism is better than the mining industry anyway. The Siumut Party, the social democratic party in the majority at the moment in the nation, states that this project will create new opportunities for the citizens and attract new investors. But that’s pretty much it for the joyful side of this discussion.

For 3 weeks, in 2018, there has been political turmoil and fear over the project. The fact is that, despite the best intentions, this plan will increase the influence that Denmark has over Greenland, nullifying all the efforts made by local politics to make the Island more and more independent. That is because the Copenhagen government has a huge share in the project and is also responsible for the Foreign Affairs of Greenland.

Other criticism comes from environmentalist groups that complain about the issues of making Greenland more connected with America and Europe, and the consequent pollution despite all the efforts to make aviation more sustainable. And to make matters worse, a lot of locals are unhappy because the project is all tailored to tourism, and not internal mobility, keeping all the other communities outside the 3 aforementioned cities with the same (poor) level of connection to the main settlements.

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