'Joe Blow on the street from Nunavut should be able to take an affordable flight to Greenland an

Greenland air link lobby grounded by strong head-winds

By Arthur Johnson

When Kenn Harper became Denmark's honorary consul for Nunavut in 2006, it was widely assumed, and indeed, expected, that his duties would be more ceremonial than burdensome.

But Harper confounded expectations by using the position for an obsessive and thus far, frustrated pursuit of a single goal – to seek the re-establishment of a direct air link between Nunavut and Greenland.

For almost two years now, Harper has buttonholed, pleaded, cajoled, travelled to Greenland, met politicians, harangued airline officials – all to no avail. "I've lobbied, talked to people, put forward all the blatantly obvious reasons why an air link between the two jurisdictions is necessary and crucial," he says.

"I have failed miserably."

That is not an easy or comfortable admission for a man who has channelled restless energy and outsized ambition into successive and often overlapping careers in education, merchandising and real estate – while also winning acclaim and admiration as one of the North's foremost historians.

In Harper's elusive quest for a direct, two-hour flight from Iqaluit to Nuuk there is a parallel to the many doomed attempts two and three centuries ago to locate and navigate the Northwest Passage, to provide a more direct sea route through the Arctic connecting Europe and Asia.

Harper's frustration has been building since 2001, when First Air decided to terminate its weekly flights between Nunavut and Greenland. Harper finds it intolerable that the two regions, which have such a long history together (many people from Nunavut, Harper included, have relatives in Greenland, and vice versa) and which stand to gain so much from a closer association, are so isolated.

Since becoming honorary consul he has travelled to Greenland as part of a delegation of politicians, business people and other officials exploring common interests, and used the opportunity to push for a renewed air line.

What he learned, he said, is that Greenland Air, the state-owned carrier, has no interest in flying to Nunavut. Even worse, he said, the airline is opposed to providing any ground services should First Air decide to resume service to Greenland.

The reason: Greenland Air already flies a route to North America. Last year the airline inaugurated a weekly flight to Baltimore during the summer months. "They're not interested in helping anyone to operate a route across Davis Strait."

Greenland Air, he said, began the Baltimore service with some faulty assumptions. Tourists flock to Greenland from Europe, and the airline assumed North Americans would likewise jump at the opportunity to visit.

But Harper said that the service has not been marketed or publicized much and he's heard that it is not profitable. His understanding is that the airline will give it another year to prove itself.

"I believe that it will ultimately fail and I believe we will not see any progress on a route between Iqaluit and Greenland until there is some interest and co-operation from Greenland Air."

Should First Air decide at some time in the future to resume service to Greenland, he said, "it will take some serious marketing and serious marketing dollars."

He's convinced that there's a viable market, if First Air is able to arouse interest among government officials, school tour groups and other tourists.

As well, he said, the airline would have to work hard to persuade merchants in Greenland and wholesalers in Quebec and Ontario that they should use the link for cargo.

For government officials who visit Greenland occasionally, the lack of an airline is not a big concern, he said, because they can simply charter an aircraft.

"But Joe Blow on the street can't charter a plane. Joe Blow on the street from Nunavut should be able to take an affordable flight to Greenland and make some friends there."

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