Showing posts with label Kangerlussuaq. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Kangerlussuaq. Show all posts

Monday, June 24, 2024

Greenland opens new capital airport terminal, hopes to boost tourism, increase economic autonomy

I was among the first passengers at the new Nuuk terminal today.
Today a new international airport terminal opened at Nuuk, the capital of Greenland, and I was among its first passengers. (All photos by RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.)

A couple of days ago I wrote about Greenland's autonomy from Denmark, observing that tourism and fisheries, at present levels, might not be enough to sustain the economy of an independent Greenland, notwithstanding popular support for the proposition. The new terminal and runways at Nuuk, co-located with the older facility, are a calculated measure to amp up tourism and ween off Greenland of dependence on Danish aid.

The old Nuuk GOH terminal, closed today, is adjacent to the new.
As I mentioned in my previous post, Greenland infrastructure is still marked by U.S. defensive developments during World War II. The Kingdom of Denmark was occupied by the Nazis and turned over the protection of Greenland to the United States. Part of that American legacy is the country's international airport at Kangerlussuaq, a village deep in the fjords north of Nuuk and well inland, eastward, of second-city Sisimiut. 

Constructed as a military air base in 1941, Kangerlussuaq airport was a strategic refueling point. It was therefore equipped with a runway that could handle large aircraft. After the war, and for decades since, Kangerlussuaq's capacity made it the international hub for Air Greenland.

A larger-than-most Air Greenland plane prepares to fly from Kangerlussuaq to Copenhagen.

Landing at Nuuk is not for the faint of heart.
But Kangerlussuaq makes no sense for civilian use, much less for tourism. Only about 500 people live there, compared with about 17,500 in Nuuk. So intercontinental passengers traveling to or from Nuuk, such as me today, must also make the short hop between Nuuk and Kangerlussuaq. With limited flights in and out of Greenland to begin with, the cost and inconvenience of an added leg is an impediment to the tourism market that Greenland sorely wishes to develop.

As well, the old Nuuk runway was not designed for volume or large aircraft. Because of surrounding mountains and frequent cloud cover, the approach is notoriously challenging for pilots. In fact, when I landed at Nuuk a couple of days ago on a domestic flight, my Air Greenland pilot aborted landing northbound in the dense fog. We circled round and sailed alongside snowy mountain peaks—a bit unnerving—to land in the clearer southbound direction.

New Nuuk's first guests got gift bags.
Today's opening at Nuuk is a soft one, of the terminal only. The bigger, new runways are still under construction, the old runway still in use. Intercontinental passengers such as me still must fly to Kangerlussuaq. That will change when the new Nuuk airport becomes fully operational; plans aim for later this year. In fact, the runway at Kangerlussuaq has become degraded by subsiding permafrost, and the plan is to scuttle that airport for non-military use.

The great hall of the new Nuuk airport is not yet ready for prime time. A plastic sheet covers the escalator, and limited strips of seating equipped with electrical outlets are not yet plugged in to anything. There are not yet any concessions; free coffee and breads were on offer this morning.

For the time being, all roads lead to Kangerlussuaq.
The place looks promising. Warmly enthusiastic representatives this morning awarded the terminal's first 200 passengers "Greenland Airports" "goodie bags" containing travel-size containers and "Greenland airports" luggage tags.

For now, Nuuk airport will retain its IATA code, GOH, which was derived from the Danish name for Nuuk: Godthåb, or "Good Hope."

The Nuuk tarmac at GOH: new runways lie beyond the old, where a plane taxis.

Air Greenland operates a diverse fleet of planes and helicopters to connect the largely roadless country.