Kangerlussuaq’s future gets flashes of light but remains unclear | Polarjournal
Like the fog over the airport, the future outlook for Kangerlussuaq’s 500 or so inhabitants is clearing with difficulty. Image: Quirin Soloviev Wikicommons CC-BY SA 3.0

For decades, Kangerlussuaq was Greenland’s international aviation hub, thanks to the fact that the hamlet of 500 people had a runway where large military and passenger aircraft could land and take off all year round. But with the expansion of the airports in Ilulissat and Nuuk, the advantage was lost and the future was no longer rosy, but quite dark. Now the issue is slowly gaining momentum, but clarification is still a long way off.

Last Monday, Greenland and Denmark signed an agreement that will secure the continued military use of Kangerlussuaq Airport. Greenland’s head of government, Múte B. Egede, his houising and infrastructure minister, Erik Jensen and the acting Danish defence minister, Troels Lund Poulsen, signed the document that sets the framework for the future use of the airport for the Danish armed forces. While this is only a framework, at least the residents of Kangerlussuaq are no longer hanging in complete limbo as far as the future of “their” airport is concerned.

The framework agreement secures, at least on paper, the dual use of the airport for military and civil purposes. Image: Buiobuione Wikicommons CC-BY SA 4.0

Denmark’s signature first secures important points, Mr Egede told SermitsiaqAG:, a news outlet: “The most important points of the framework agreement on Kangerlussuaq Airport are, first, its dual use, so that military aircraft and passenger planes can land and, second, that the militarry will renovate the airport and, third, that the military will be responsible for financing it.” All three points were completely unclear after the Greenlandic government announced plans to expand the airports in Ilulissat and Nuuk and turn them into Greenland’s new aviation hubs starting in the autumn of 2024. Inquiries to the government were usually answered only vaguely or not at all. Nuuk wanted to wait for the decision of the Danish military first. And these have now come out clearly in favor of retaining the airport and its use. This is probably also related to the new geopolitical reality and the situation in the Arctic. These put Greenland back much more at the center of Nato’s strategic thinking.

Despite the agreement with the Danish military, many questions remain unanswered. Air Greenland and the government in Nuuk have not yet concretised further proposals and plans for the future of Kangerlussuaq. Only the fact that Air Greenland’s flagship “Tuukaq” will no longer land there seems fixed. Image: Air Greenland

Although the agreement with the Danish military provides some breathing room, the future of the airport and the hamlet remains in limbo. Because Air Greenland, the second major user of the airport, continues to shroud itself in silence when it comes to concrete plans. It seems certain that the time of international flights to and from Kangerlussuaq will be over. At an information meeting, the airline announced that it was examining whether Kangerlussuaq could remain an alternative airport, at least for domestic flights. However, this depends on the airport’s capacity, even after any expansion. “It is in everyone’s interest that Kangerlussuaq is developed,” said Bodil Marie Damgaard, the chair of the company’s board. But Air Greenland does not want to rush ahead and wants to wait and see in which direction the development goes. “It’s going to happen in small steps, and those steps are going to require an incredible amount of co-operation. Just one party will not deliver the whole package,” Ms Damgaard said. It is actually clear which other party should play along: the government. But even they are not taking their cards in hand when it comes to the question. There is no shortage of suggestions as to what the future of Kangerlussuaq might look like. A working group had published concrete proposals and measures. In addition to the expansion of the road from Kangerlussuaq to Sisimiut, the expansion of the harbour for supplies and possible tourist ships, this also included the examination of possible open-jaw flights between Kangerlussuaq and Ilulissat or Nuuk.

So opportunities for a future of Greenland’s former hub are there. But whether a decision will be in place by next autumn, when the airports in Nuuk and Ilulissat begin operations, remains in the fog for now.

Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal

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