Greenland’s air traffic heads for a hot summer | Polarjournal
Last year, Air Greenland inaugurated its new long-haul aircraft and people were looking forward to the future. But a looming strike could dash those hopes (Photo: Air Greenland)

Air transport is essential for Greenland’s people and its economy. Two airport upgrades should mean better services and flight connections for residents and visitors alike. But now there are difficulties looming on the horizon that could slow down air traffic to the world’s largest island

On 23 June, air traffic to and from Greenland could come to a halt due to a dispute between some Air Greenland ground staff, primarily mechanics and technicians, and their employer over wage and working conditions. Should the employees make good on their threat to strike, it would ground the airline’s daily flight to and from Copenhagen, the main international route to Greenland. Both the airline and Dansk Metal, a labour union, confirmed the possibility of a strike in corresponding announcements last week. This is the union’s second strike threat after it stood down from a threats to walk off the job last Easter and instead postpone wage negotiations to this year.

This latest threat follows a wage offer made by the airline to the union some time ago. “At a time when inflation is high and hitting workers hard in the wallet, companies that are doing well have to get used to the fact that they will have to pay more. That’s basically what this strike is about,” said Keld Bækkelund Hansen, Dansk Metal’s lead negotiator.

Air Greenland’s management, on the other hand, is correspondingly irritated about the union’s renewed threat. Mads Barlach Christensen, the airline’s human-resources manager and its negotiator, said: “We are dealing with a group of employees who are well compensated. On top of that, we have offered a very favourable increase in wages that is higher than what other professions in the Greenlandic labour market have received.” In his opinion, the union’s demands are unrealistic. “The pay rise they are demanding this year is the same as other professions are getting over three or four years.”

The strike will affect only the international flights, but it will begin at the start of the crucial tourist season (File photo)

The employees threatening to go on strike are the mechanics and technicians who work on Air Greenland’s recently delivered Airbus 330neo-800, nicknamed Tuukkaq, which serves its Kangerlussuaq-Copenhagen route. “We do not want to affect domestic traffic in Greenland, so we’re only planning to strike on the trans-Atlantic route. We want this to have as little an impact as possible on the people of Greenland.”

The strike is timed to coincide with the start of the tourism season in June, and the industry would be hard hit should flights be cancelled. But, in Air Greenland’s eyes, the union’s demand will still ultimately harm the people of Greenland. “There is only one way to implement the additional wage increase demanded by Dansk Metal — and that is by passing it on to passengers in the form of higher ticket prices,” Mr Christensen said. Those passengers include the workers threatening to strike. The two sides are to sit down with a mediator in the hopes of finding an agreement.

An upgraded airport in Ilulissat will allow foreign travellers to fly directly to Greenland’s most popular tourism destination. Construction has been beset by setbacks, but nationally controlled airport-managing firm Kalaallit Airports expects the facility will be handed over on time (Photo: Kalallit Airports)

The threatened strike isn’t the only turbulence Greenland’s air-travel industry can expect this summer. Delays to planned upgrades of Ilulissat Airport that will allow foreign travellers to fly to directly to the country’s most popular tourism destination are a cause for concern in Nuuk. Kalaallit Airports, the nationally controlled airport-management firm, announced recently that construction is “well behind” the schedule set for the prestigious project.

In addition, Kalaallit Airports has warned that after reporting a loss of 149 million kroner (€20 million) in 2022, it is expecting to end this year 238 million kroner in the red. Múte B Egede, the premier, said: “(Greenland) has invested a great deal in this project, and we expect the project to be completed within the deadlines that were set in connection with the injection of capital.”

Despite the bad news, Kalaallit Airports is still optimistic that the airport will be handed over on time. “Construction of the terminal and service buildings has begun and is progressing rapidly,” it said in a statement issued to its annual meeting. “Building airports in the Arctic is not without its challenges, but the projects are progressing rapidly, the finances look reasonable and we have reached our first major milestone. All in all, it is a satisfactory and solid result that we are proud of,” said Kjeld Zacho Jørgensen, the managing director. The plan is for Tuukkaq to land here next year if strike threats don’t flare up again. Things are already getting hot enough in Greenland as they are.

Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal

Featured image: Air Greenland

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