Will Kangerlussuaq remain an international airport? | Polarjournal
The airport in Kangerlussuaq is Greenland’s hub – for now. This is because the airports in the country’s two most important cities, Nuuk and Ilulissat, are currently being expanded and will also operate internationally from 2024. Photo: Julia Hager

The question of what to do with the airport in Kangerlussuaq in West Greenland has long been on the agenda. It is still the only intercontinental airport in Greenland and thus the country’s hub. But with the expansion of the airports in the capital Nuuk and in Ilulissat, which is popular with tourists, Kangerlussuaq airport, which is not very conveniently located, will soon lose its appeal. The Greenlandic government wants to keep it as an Atlantic airport, Air Greenland no longer expects international flights and the Danish Ministry of Defense wants a military base – many different ideas.

International air traffic to and from Greenland has been handled through Kangerlussuaq for decades. Air Greenland offers the only year-round service to Copenhagen from there, and cruise operators embark and disembark their passengers there. NATO also uses the airport, about as frequently as civil aviation.

However, the two main Greenlandic cities of Nuuk and Ilulissat will soon replace Kangerlussuaq. Their airports are currently being expanded so that large aircraft will also be able to take off and land there from 2024. This raises the question of how to proceed with Kangerlussuaq. In particular, the citizens of the village of 500 inhabitants want clarity at last.

Kangerlussuaq was opened as a military airport by the U.S. Air Force during World War II and was not turned over to the Greenlandic government until 1992. Photo: Kevin McGwin

The Government of Greenland (Naalakkersuisut) has assured that its goal is to keep Kangerlussuaq as a civilian airport: “That is our great ambition and goal,” Erik Jensen, Greenland’s Social Democratic Minister of Infrastructure, told news platform Sermitsiaq AG. According to Jensen, Naalakkersuisut hopes to reach an agreement with the Danish government to continue operating as an international airport.

However, the amount of subsidies requested for the Greenlandic airport operator Mittarfeqarfiit is not sufficient for this. According to Sermitsiaq, Naalakkersuisut has so far applied for only 105 million Danish kroner, which would be sufficient to operate as a regional airport. However, another 53 million would be needed to continue operating as an Atlantic airport. Naalakkersuisut hopes that the Danish government will provide the missing millions.

Air Greenland, on the other hand, does not believe that there will be enough demand for Kangerlussuaq Airport to continue offering international flights after the opening of the two new airports. Accordingly, the airline is not pursuing any plans to continue scheduled international flights.

“There is only one thing that determines whether you fly there. And that is whether there are customers. An airport and a runway do not create tourism. It’s the destination. So if there is something that enough people want to visit, there is a good reason to fly there,” says Henrik Bjørner Søe, Air Greenland’s commercial director, adding, “So if there are enough well-run tourist activities and enough good accommodations in Kangerlussuaq to accommodate a sufficient number of tourists, then there is a market for transatlantic flights.”

Kangerlussuaq is not really conveniently located for travel to the main sites in West Greenland. With the new airports in the capital Nuuk and in the popular tourist town of Ilulissat on the Icefjord, it will soon be possible to fly directly to the most frequently visited destinations. Map: GoogleEarth

However, it is still not at all certain whether Kangerlussuaq will remain a civilian airport. This is because the Danish Ministry of Defense has long wanted a military base. And converting Kangerlussuaq Airport would seem to be a good option, which may have gained weight in light of the Russian attack on Ukraine.

Whatever the decision, Denmark can by no means decide on its own what to do with the airport. After signing the defense agreement last year, Greenland must be included in all issues concerning Greenland and the Arctic.

Julia Hager, PolarJournal

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