Planning approved for new airports in East Greenland | Polarjournal
The northernmost community on the East Greenland side is Ittoqqortoormiit, which is often visited by expedition ships in the second half of the summer. But reaching it by plane is inconvenient. Picture: Michael Wenger

Transport in Greenland and connections between the individual communities is usually provided either by boats and ships or by airplanes and helicopters. At the same time, the communities in East Greenland are among the most remote places on the world’s largest island. Connecting the largest towns of Ittoqqortoormiit and Tasiilaq with the rest of Greenland is cumbersome due to lack or even absence of infrastructure. This is now to change.

The Government of Greenland has instructed the Finance and Tax Committee to release funds for the planning of airports in the two East Greenland municipalities of Tasiilaq and Ittoqqortoormiit, according to a press release from the Department of Housing and Infrastructure. The move is intended to better connect both communities to Greenland’s air transport network and thus become part of the infrastructure program approved by parliament in 2015. But it was not until the fall of 2020 that general plans for regional airstrips were approved, including in the two East Greenland communities. With the instruction, the planning round now begins.

The two communities in East Greenland can only be served indirectly within Greenland. For Tasiilaq, the connection is via Kulusuk Airport by helicopter, and for Ittoqqortoormiit by helicopter to Nerleerit Inaat Airport, which is considered one of the most remote airports in the world. Map: Michael Wenger via Google Earth

The connection to the regional air network of the two municipalities Tasiilaq and Ittoqqortoormiit has been a rather inconvenient matter until now. In both places, visitors and residents must first be taken by helicopter to the nearest towns of Kulusuk (for Tasiilaq) and Nerleerit Inaat (Ittoqqortoormiit). Although these are not far away in terms of kilometers, they do not have any road connections to the villages. This makes direct transportation of people and goods a very cumbersome affair and also prevents further economic development. Considering the geographic location of the two communities, however, this would be a given, especially in the tourism sector, since due to the elimination of the Russian Arctic, providers of Arctic tours are looking more strongly to Greenland. And especially the wild and very arctic east coast of Greenland is an attractive alternative. And also for the life of the inhabitants of the communities a better connection would be desirable. Because both places can reach the west coast and thus the national centers only via Reykjavik or, in the case of Ittoqqortormiit, via Akureyri. Especially in case of health problems, evacuations are therefore a difficult and costly affair. The supply via ship is also difficult if the coast is inaccessible due to ice.

The responsible minister for housing and infrastructure, Erik Jensen, is pleased with the decision of his government colleagues. “I am pleased that we can now start planning for the two airports on the east coast. This will give us even more insight into how the airports can best be designed – and whether the airports in Tasiilaq and Ittoqqortoormiit can meet our expectations in terms of regularity, safety and other political priorities,” he explains in the statement. Aspects such as the geographic location of the new airports, the necessary dimensions and orientation of the runways and also the integration into the test site are now included in the planning. Further decisions such as the design of the building and a price calculation can only be made once decisions have been made. Based on this, the financing for the construction is planned. This means that until then, the people of Ittoqqortoormiit and Tasiilaq will continue to be a bit removed from the big world.

Dr. Michael Wenger, PolarJournal

Featured image: Berland, Wikipedia English, CC BY-SA 3.0

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