Greenland delays construction of a regional airport amid cost concerns

Construction is unlikely to begin until next summer, as the nationally controlled firm overseeing construction calls for new bids.

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Qaqortoq Airport, shown here in an artist’s rendition, remains on the drawing board, but key details may be changed in the final picture. (Kalaallit Airports)

Construction of a regional airport in Qaqortoq, in southern Greenland, due to begin this autumn, has been postponed indefinitely by the nationally controlled firm created to oversee the project after all five bids it received “significantly exceed” the projected cost.

The cost of the airport in Qaqortoq has not been made public, but it is part of a 3.6 billion kroner ($570 million) plan passed by Inatsisartut, the national assembly, in 2018 that also paved the way for upgrades to existing airports in Nuuk, the capital, and Ilulissat, a major travel destination.

Together, the three airports make up the largest public investment in the county’s history. Once completed, they would form the cornerstone of a long-term effort to revamp the its network of airports and helipads, many of which were built to serve the U.S. military during the World War II.

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Kalaallit Airports Holding, which will also be responsible for managing the three airports, had expected to select a winning bid in May. Construction was due to be finished by 2023.

After unsuccessfully negotiating with two of the firms that submitted bids on ways to bring down construction costs, and with Naalakkersuisut, the self-rule government, to set aside more money for construction, Kalaallit Airports Holding announced last month that it had had cancelled the tender.

It has now asked lawmakers to reconsider scaling back key details of the project — some of which, such as runway length and the size of the terminal building, are politically sensitive — in order to reduce costs. 

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Construction of an airport in Qaqortoq, the seat of government in southern Greenland, has been a matter of discussion for decades. The announcement that the tender had been cancelled was greeted with frustration by local decision makers.

However, it was the possibility that the runway would be shortened that concerned them most.

Current plans call for a runways of 1,500 meters (5,000 feet), which would be necessary to accommodate regional aircraft.

Kiista Isaksen, mayor of Kujalleq council, where Qaqortoq is located, saw the delay and potentially shorter bane as potentially undermining the efforts it had made to use the airport to spur development in the region.

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She underscored that local lawmakers would not accept a shorter runway than had been ordered by the assembly.

“It’s just not acceptable that we constantly get the short end of the stick,” she said.

After a meeting with members of Inatsisartut last week, Karl Frederik Danielsen, the transport minister, made it clear that the airport would become a reality, but declined to give further details about the airport’s cost or suggestions for how to make it less expensive.

“Inatsisartut instructed Naalakkersuisut in 2018 to make sure that we built an airport in Qaqortoq. No matter what. But we still need to be responsible about how we use taxpayer money,” he told KNR.

A new tender is expected next year. Should a contractor be found then, Kalaallit Airports Holding expects the airport can be taken into use in 2024.