Greenland government rejects resumption of air link with Nunavut

Greenland infrastructure minister says new airport construction is a bigger priority

An Air Greenland Dash-8 sits parked on an apron at the Iqaluit airport in 2012. (File photo)

By Jim Bell

The Greenland government has rejected the idea of using government-owned Air Greenland to re-establish a scheduled air service between Nunavut and Greenland, the Sermitsiaq newspaper reported on Oct. 17.

The story, published in Danish and Greenlandic, quoted Greenland’s minister of housing and infrastructure, Karl Frederik Danielsen, as saying that his government’s current priority is new airport construction and not an air link to Nunavut.

Danielsen, a member of the governing Siumut party, made the remarks in response to a proposal from Mimi Karlsen, an Inuit Ataqatigiit member of the Greenland Inatsisartut, or parliament.

In her proposal, Karlsen said Greenland should establish closer connections with other Inuit regions, Sermitsiaq reported.

“She believed that trade relations and cultural activities could be started by establishing the route to Iqaluit,” the Sermitsiaq story said.

She also said the Greenland government should look at the possibility of getting financial support from the Canadian government for a Nunavut-Greenland air link.

But Karlsen said the Greenland government’s biggest priority right now is improving air service within Greenland.

To that end, he said his government is focusing on the extension of runways and construction of new airports.

“This should be seen in the light of the fact that airlines have typically concluded that the short runways appear to be an obstacle to regular services,” Sermitsiaq quoted Danielsen as saying.

“Due to the current construction of new airports, Naalakkersuisut [Government of Greenland] believes that the time has not come to examine the possibilities of opening a flight route to the neighboring country,” Danielson said.

In the summer of 2012, Air Greenland started an 11-week trial air service between Iqaluit and Nuuk, offering twice-a-week flights between the two cities that ran from June to September that year.

At that time, a one-way fare for the one-hour-and-45-minute flight, on an Air Greenland 34-seat Dash-8, cost C$748.

The company believed they could attract passengers from the mineral and oil industries, but passenger volumes disappointed them.

In 2013, seat counts per flight ranged between 30 and 40 per cent. In 2014, after Air Greenland focused more on tourists, and friends and family members on either side of the Davis Strait, that rose to about 50 per cent.

The service continued in 2014. But in 2015, Air Greenland stopped offering the service, saying passenger volumes were too low.

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(11) Comments:

  1. Posted by The Old Trapper on

    Greenland Minister Danielsen is correct on both counts. The runways in Greenland (including Nuuk) negatively affect the payload that the aircraft can carry in an out of each community. Longer runways, although often difficult to construct given the topography would aid in reducing costs and improving service.
    He is also correct that the volume of passenger traffic does not warrant a year round route. While a seasonal route may be possible in the summer it would require the tourists to pay more than they have been willing up to now. The mining “boom” in Greenland seems to have been very short lived and never gained traction on the route when it was operating.
    And before the comments start that Canadian North should pick-up this route, the smart way to operate the route is from Nuuk to Iqaluit, connect with the jet from/to Ottawa, and then operate Iqaluit – Nuuk. This allows North American tourists same day connections to/from Greenland.
    Culturally the route would be a valuable link, unfortunately these days the governments involved don’t have the money to provide this subsidy when housing, food security, social programs, and climate change all rate higher on the priority list.

    • Posted by CN could on

      With the new schedule, Canadian North could fly to Nuuk an hour after the morning flight from Ottawa and easily be back in time an hour before the evening flight back to Ottawa.

  2. Posted by Kenn Harper on

    A shameful decision.
    And “Old Trapper” who commented above should rename himself “Short Memory.”
    A route from Iqaluit to Greenland operated successfully for 20 years from 1981 to 2001: 13 years from Iqaluit to Nuuk; 7 years from Iqaluit to Kangerlussuaq.
    This is a very sad story which shows no vision on the part of the airlines on both sides of Davis Strait.

    • Posted by Peter Pan on

      The reason the flight across to Greenland operated successfully for those 20 years was because a lot of those flights included fresh cargo for Greenland. Once they figured out they could get fresher products at cheaper prices from Europe, they changed how they moved their cargo and the passenger service failed.

      • Posted by Kenn Harper on

        That is absolutely false. Here is why it failed after 20 years.
        For the first 13 years (Iqaluit to Nuuk), it was very successful. Then the US Air Force announced that they would no longer carry Greenland domestic passengers from Kangerlussuaq to Thule Air Base, for furtherance by helicopter to Qaanaaq and other villages, as they had done for many years. Air Greenland would have to provide that service themselves. But AG did not have the right equipment. So they asked First Air to stop serving Nuuk via Hawker Siddley 748s from Iqaluit, and instead run from Iqaluit to Kangerlussuaq with the FA jet, and then AG would charter FA’s jet to fly Kangerlussuaq to TAB. They did this for some time, on a weekly basis. (It was a shared route, but FA did the flying.) Then AG decided that they wanted to compete with SAS on the Kangerlussuaq-Copenhagen route, and they chartered FA’s jet to do that once per week as well, for some time. So the FA jet went Ottawa-Iqaluit-Kangerlussuaq-Copenhagen-Kangerlussuaq-TAB-Kangerlussuaq-Iqaluit-Ottawa once per week. Then the predictable happened. Air Greenland bought their own jet and started doing TAB and Copenhagen themselves. In the meantime the cargo (fresh food) business had diminished because the costs were higher and the handling was more – after all, only a handful of people live in Kangerlussuaq. Some of us urged FA at the time to give up flying to Kangerlussuaq with a pretty empty jet, and resume the 748 route from Iqaluit to Nuuk. But FA management had changed and the new management did not realize how successful the route had previously been and how successful it could be again. So instead, they cancelled it.

        • Posted by The Old Trapper on

          I agree that First Air did operate the Kangerlussuaq – Thule sub-charter for a short period of time. My most vivid recollection is that it was an immense PITA due to the U.S.A.F. shutting the base down for the night before their evening dinner (I believe at 5 pm local). If you were late, too bad, go somewhere else, like back to Kangerlussuaq.
          To my knowledge First Air never operated from Kangerlussuaq – Copenhagen on behalf of Greenlandair.
          As you said conditions changed, such as Greenlandair getting their own jet, plus the 727 being old, expensive to operate, and increasingly unreliable. Basically the same scenario with the Hawker. The ATR42 and the Dash 8 doesn’t have a very useful payload/range combination for the route.
          With little freight to haul there was no need for a jet to Kangerlussuaq, plus the real market was, and continues to be Nuuk. The Hawker was used for a while but changing markets, schedules, and priorities meant that it was no longer viable.
          Air Greenland has tried it as well but could never get it to even a break even status, which is where we are today. I would love to see the route work, but reality is that it doesn’t work with the current circumstances.

    • Posted by The Old Trapper on

      I remember Kenn, and I went on both the Kangerlussuaq flights with the 727 and the Nuuk flights with the Hawker Siddeley HS-748. My memory is good enough to know that neither the 727 nor the Hawker is flying today. And Greenlandair, now Air Greenland, used to operate the Dash 7 on the route for a while too.
      Aircraft, economics, passenger & cargo markets change Kenn.
      I admit that I don’t follow the latest schedules these days, I have better things to do with my time. Maybe it would be “possible” on the latest schedules to connect from the Canadian side but that doesn’t mean that it makes sense to actually operate the flight, likely at a financial loss.
      The Greenland routes themselves usually lost money but provided through traffic onto the Ottawa portion. Now that the Greenland portion would have to be operated with aircraft that carry less, and cost more, it makes less economic sense.
      As a standalone route for Air Greenland they would lose money. The Greenland government is not going to subsidize it. The Canadian government is not going to subsidize it. It may make sense for a cruise ship or tour to charter as they could have a full aircraft both ways. As for a scheduled service, even for 8 – 12 weeks in the summer – it’s been tried repeatedly, and has failed financially each time.
      You used to be a good businessman, if somethings fails to make money year after year, no matter what you try, eventually you shut it down and realize that it won’t work. That is the truth about the Iqaluit – Nuuk route. As the song says, “You can’t always get what you want”.

  3. Posted by Kenn Harper on

    The route was initially started in 1981 and was successful for so many years because of the vision and determination of two vice-presidents at First Air – John Crichton and the late Andy Campbell.

    • Posted by The old Trapper on

      No argument there Kenn, – John and Andy were the heart and soul of the company for many years and many people owe their careers to their leadership.

  4. Posted by Oovanga Inuk on

    Government of Nunavut is the most craziest when it comes to Public safety as I was going through an ordeal with the Contractors that I worked for no one was helping at all not even the ministers. No concern what so ever, the Contractors were hiring new operators for Air Port Maintainers and what so ever they hired a new operator with no experience at all not even one year of Equipment operator experience.

  5. Posted by bob on

    Right NOW there is just not enough people to confidently convince the airlines that they could make money off it. The hand full of outspoken people in Iqaluit that pushed for it are the ones that keep the discussion going. Once their energy is directed elsewhere this will die for a little while just to get resurrected when they get bored. This is what happens when personal interests are blinded to the realities of economies of scale.

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