Greenland lawmakers approve funding for major airports project

The largest infrastructure project in Greenland’s history has moved from political discussion to financial responsibility.

By Kevin McGwin - November 15, 2018
An artist’s conception of the improved Ilulissat airport. (Kalaallit Airports)

Greenland’s national assembly, Inatsisartut, voted Thursday to spend 2.1 billion kroner ($250 million) to fund improvements at two existing airports and construction of a third.

The plan, which passed 18-9, with two abstentions, is expected to cost 3.6 billion kroner in all, making it the country’s largest infrastructure investment ever. It could get larger: The government itself has suggested the final price tag might be 4.4 billion kroner. Economists and opponents fear the cost will be higher still. They also fret that lower airfares, easier travel and increased number of visitors, may never materialize.

In addition to Greenland’s contribution, Denmark has pledged to secure investments totaling 1.6 billion kroner. Should additional funding be required, the legislation passed today authorizes Kalaallit Airports, the firm set up in 2016 to oversee construction at the three airports and to run them once work is completed, to borrow the money.

Today’s vote puts an end to decades of discussion about whether to replace Greenland’s current international gateway, the reliable but remote Kangerlussuaq Airport (situated in a settlement with a scant 500 residents), with new facilities in Nuuk and Ilulissat, the final destinations of the vast majority of people visiting Greenland.

In addition to extending the runways at Nuuk and Ilulissat, making it possible for intercontinental jets to land there, the plan also calls for construction of a new airport in Qaqortoq, the final destination for over half of people traveling to southern Greenland.

The project became embroiled in controversy earlier this year after Denmark voiced concerns about Chinese involvement in the project and eventually convinced Greenland to accept Danish investment. That in turn prompted the dissolution of the governing coalition in the Inatsisartut over complaints about how negotiations with Denmark were handled and fears that the nation’s growing self-determination would be undermined by the deal. The current coalition now functions as a minority government.

Work at all three airports is expected to be completed by 2023.

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