The airspace in the south of Greenland is a race track. On the way between North America and Europe, hundreds of long-haul aircraft cross here every day. But only a handful of planes land on the island itself, which belongs to the Kingdom of Denmark. With a population of around 56,000, it is one of the most sparsely populated regions in the world.
Accordingly, the number of Greenlandic airports is also manageable. Out of a total of six airports, only two offer international connections to Copenhagen and Reykjavik. To boost tourism and the economy of Greenland, this is too little in the eyes of the Greenlandic and Danish governments. They therefore recently initiated the construction of three new airports.
Construction work already started
The equivalent of 572 million euros will be invested in the construction of the new airports. In the capital Nuuk and in the city of Ilulissat in the west, two large new airports are to be built by the end of 2023. Construction work has already begun, Greenland’s state-owned airport construction company says Kalaallit Airports in a statement. In addition, a new regional airport is planned in Qaqortoq in the south.
The two major projects will create two new airports that will meet the standards of conventional international airports. Both will have a runway with a length of 2,200 meters and an instrument landing system which will allow approaches in poor visibility conditions.
Previous Main airport has problems
With Kangerlussuaq Airport, there is so far only one commercial airport in Greenland that handles international flights and has similar dimensions. However, this is equipped without an instrument landing system. However, the airport, previously considered Greenland’s main airport, is facing its end. Because Kangerlussuaq is too far from populated areas, it was decided years ago to close it to civilian flights.
In addition, due to rising temperatures, the permafrost under the airport is melting. As a result repairs on the apron and runways are becoming increasingly necessary. There subsidence and cracks appear. But the buildings are also suffering. Partial they sink. From 2024, therefore, only military aircraft will take off and land from Kangerlussuaq The new airports are stepping into the breach in Nuuk and Ilulissat.
Largest infrastructure project in history
Greenland would like to no longer base its economy mainly on fishing as its most important branch. The Arctic region has been striving for a long time to establish tourism as a new source of income, especially with the extraction of raw materials. To this end, Greenland would like above all to expand its transport infrastructure.
The three new airports will be able to handle around 80 percent of the total passengers in Greenland. The construction is the most expensive infrastructure project in the history of the self-governed region. Up until the summer, Kalaallit Airports planned to raise half of the money for the construction of the airports from private funders.
China offered Investment
In Denmark this led to fears of dwindling influence, as the portal Arctic Today reports. Denmark is now taking over a third of the shares of each of the two major airports. The remainder and the entire third regional airport is being taken over by Kalaallit Airports.
Denmark’s main concern is said to have been the possible entry of Chinese investors. The People’s Republic has been making large investments outside its own borders for years in order to gain influence overseas. This is also the case in Greenland, where agreements have been reached with Chinese companies to extract raw materials.
Measure to calm down the US?
As the broadcaster BBC reports, Chinese companies also offered to get involved in the airport project. However, this was rejected. A growing Chinese presence in Greenland could, above all, weaken Danish relations with the the U.S. as a NATO partner. For the United States, the Arctic region is of great interest economically and militarily.
This became apparent last summer, when President Donald Trump offered Denmark in vain to buy Greenland. The motives for the bizarre offer are simple. As polar ice recedes, more and more shipping routes in Greenland are opening up as new trade routes. In addition, the USA operates the Thule Air Base in Greenland, which is part of a missile defence shield.
Heiner Kubny, PolarJournal