Nuuk Airport (Kalaallisut: Mittarfik Nuuk; Danish: Nuuk Lufthavn; (IATA: GOH, ICAO: BGGH)) is an airport in Nuuk, the capital of Greenland. The airport is a technical base and focus city for Air Greenland, the flag-carrier airline of Greenland, linking the capital with several towns in western and south-western part of the country, including the airline hub at Kangerlussuaq Airport. With connections to Iceland, Nuuk Airport is also one of 6 international airports in Greenland.
In the early 1960s, water planes of the newly established Air Greenland landed in Nuuk Port. In 1965, the airline invested in developing a more robust fleet based on the large Sikorsky S-61 helicopter, which continued to serve the town for the next four decades, even after the construction of an airport in Nuuk capable of serving the short takeoff and landing de Havilland Canada Dash-7 aircraft, which dominated at the airport since the 1970s.
The airport was constructed to serve the largest town in Greenland, yet due to space constraints at the location in a mountainous area and problems with the weather, it is unable to service large airliners. An expansion of the airport is not an acceptable option also due to the approach over the urbanized area of the outlying districts of Nuuk, although the issue continues to be a subject of internal debate in Greenland.
Water plane era
In the early 1960s, after the establishment of Air Greenland on 7 November 1960 as Greenlandair, Nuuk was served exclusively by the PBY Catalina water planes, with the aircraft using the waterways of the Nuuk Port as a landing site. In 1962 a PBY Catalina crashed near the port, killing 15 people onboard.
The tragedy was one of the factors leading to the decision to invest in a helicopter fleet. The Sikorsky S-61N machines—still in use in 2010—proved to be a more reliable mode of transport for the city, providing exclusive service for the Nuuk city for more than a decade—from the purchase date in 1965 until the late 1970s.
Even in the later era of the fixed-wing, turboprop plane domination, the S-61N helicopters continued to link Nuuk with the smaller Paamiut town, until the airport was built there in 2007, replacing the old heliport.
Regional airport network
Nuuk Airport was built in 1979, when the then newly formed Home Rule government decided to create a network of the STOL-capable domestic airports. The airport in the largest city in Greenland was a priority for the government, followed by Kulusuk Airport in Kulusuk in south-eastern Greenland, and Ilulissat Airport in Ilulissat, the largest town in the Disko Bay region of western Greenland. This constituted the first such wave of network expansion.
It wasn't until the 1990s that the network experienced another spurt of large-scale growth, when the airports in the remaining larger towns were built: Sisimiut Airport in Sisimiut and Maniitsoq Airport in Maniitsoq in central-western Greenland, Aasiaat Airport in the Disko Bay region, Upernavik Airport in Upernavik in northwestern Greenland, and Qaarsut Airport, an airport in Qaarsut, a settlement in the Uummannaq Fjord region; the airport serving both the village and the larger town of Uummannaq, located on the rocky Uummannaq Island.
The first international connection at Nuuk Airport linked Nuuk with Iqaluit in Nunavut, Canada. The connection was closed 13 years later, and for many years afterwards the international connections to Greenland were limited to Kangerlussuaq Airport in central-western Greenland, 319 km (198 mi) to the north of Nuuk, an airport inherited from the U.S. Air Force, when the former Sondrestrom Air Base was handed over to the then Home Rule government on 30 September 1992.
Unlike the Nuuk Airport, the airport in Kangerlussuaq can serve large airliners, and remains the airline hub of Air Greenland, the flag-carrier of Greenland. The airline is opposed to relocation of its hub, citing involved costs of such a move and consistently favourable weather conditions at Kangerlussuaq, located deep inland, approximately 30 km (19 mi) from the edge of the Greenland ice sheet (Kalaallisut: Sermersuaq). The airline argues that the infrastructure at Kangerlussuaq is good, and visibility is not hampered by the coastal fogs, storms, heavy snowfall, and frequent turbulence in particular.
These well-grounded arguments for preserving the airwise status-quo in Greenland pose a problem for the Government of Greenland, which oversees the development of the airport network through Mittarfeqarfiit, the airport administration authority. More than a quarter of Greenland's population lives in Nuuk, with the majority of the important institutions in the country are located in the city, while the necessity to change planes at Kangerlussuaq is costly and time-consuming for the population.
With the airport being limited to serving small planes, the possibilities of international connections remain limited. Reopening of the connection to Iqaluit was considered by Air Greenland in late 2009, but was later postponed until at least 2011. In order to compete with Air Iceland, which operates services to Nuuk, Narsarsuaq, Ilulissat, and all airports on the eastern coast, Air Greenland announced opening of new connections with Iceland, linking Nuuk and Narsarsuaq with Keflavík International Airport, later restricting it to Nuuk. In 2010, the route will be operated in May–June and September, with a possible extension to full-season in 2011.
The de Havilland Canada Dash 8 turboprops, acquired in the Spring of 2010, are the newest planes in the Air Greenland fleet, and are based at the airport. The aircraft are used for the seasonal flights to Iceland, and for charter flights, such as the shuttle flights for the 2010 Inuit Circumpolar Council conference in Nuuk.
Nuuk Airport is also home to the Beechcraft King Air B200 "Amaalik", used for air ambulance flights and occasional charters. The airport is also used for various charter flights, such as airlifts to the summit of the 1,210 metres (3,970 ft) Sermitsiaq Mountain, a landmark of Nuuk, located on Sermitsiaq Island north of the airport.
The airport is located 2 NM (3.7 km; 2.3 mi) northeast of Nuuk Centrum. The former suburbs of Nuuk, such as Nuussuaq, Quassussuup Tungaa, and Qinngorput, incorporated into the town in the last decade, have brought the airport closer to the city. As of 2010 the airport is within walking distance from the nearest continuously inhabited area, its runway approximately 700 m (2,300 ft) from the University of Greenland campus.
Nuuk airport has one asphalt runway (05/23) 950 × 30 m (3,117 × 98 ft) 283 ft (86 m) above sea level. The airport terminal and apron are built on a levelled platform in an undulating slope under the Ukkusissat mountain, with the runway platform artificially elevated to compensate for the scarp immediately to the west. The runway platform bed is composed of broken rock and rubble, topped with gravel, and protected with a low, wooden fence.
The northern end of the runway is less than 700 m (2,300 ft) from the shore of Nuup Kangerlua fjord. An expansion of the runway in that direction would require relocation of the connecting road, which climbs under the runway scarp. An often-discussed extension of the runway in the other direction would have brought the endpoint close to Qinngorput, the newest district of Nuuk, rapidly expanding in the late 2000s.
An expansion in any direction to the length exceeding 3 km (1.9 mi) is not possible, and plans are drafted for expansion on a smaller scale, with the aim to extend the runway to 1,199 m (3,934 ft). The extension issue is a longstanding topic of the ongoing controversy in Greenland. Rough weather in the region is cited as life-threatening to larger airplanes, given the additional difficulty of approach in a mountainous region.
Currently in order to land at the airport, fixed-wing planes flying from the north must perform a full 180-degree U-turn, flying directly over the city, which in case of frequent heavy turbulence could lead to a crash, causing a widespread loss of life and property.
Airlines and destinations
Nuuk Airport is has a passenger terminal, and a cargo terminal of Air Greenland. It serves as the technical base for Air Greenland. The airport is equipped with the distance measuring equipment.
There are three gates in the terminal, located in the same area as the check-in desks and the waiting hall, with unrestricted access. The luggage conveyor belt is installed in a separate section of the terminal. The airport is closed on Sundays.
Line 3 of Nuup Bussii connects the airport with Nuuk Centrum, passing through the Nuussuaq and Quassussuup Tungaa districts on the way. Buses depart from the airport every hour. Taxis operated by Nuna Taxa are also available. Limited-time parking for private cars is available outside the terminal.
Accidents and incidents
On 7 June 2008, an Eurocopter AS350 of Air Greenland crashed on the runway at Nuuk Airport. There were no injuries, but the helicopter was damaged beyond repair.
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