Nuuk airport upgrade delayed a year

COVID-related delays will now see Greenland’s new international gateway come into service in 2024, at the same time as the upgraded Ilulissat airport.

By Kevin McGwin - September 2, 2021
An Air Greenland Dash-8-200 sits on the apron at the airport in Nuuk in this 2016 file photo (Mittarfeqarfiit / Rune Kaldau)

Greenland’s new international gateway in Nuuk will not open until 2024, a year later than the most recent prediction for the date for construction at the airport to be completed.

The runway extension and terminal upgrade that will make it possible to fly directly to the capital city from abroad has been slowed by the pandemic and by a range of new requirements imposed on Kalaallit Airports, a nationally controlled firm that will own and operate the facility on behalf of the Self-Rule Authority.

“We have done everything in our power to prevent this from happening, but COVID-19 in particular has presented us with a number of unexpected problems that will make it impossible for us to finish by the planned deadline,” said Jens Lauridsen, managing director of Kalaallit Airports.

The delay is not expected to add to the project’s revised 4.5 billion kroner ($720 million) cost, and because it was partly due to the pandemic, no fines will be issued to the firm that is carrying out construction.

[Concerns grow over the cost for one of three planned Greenland airport projects]

In April, the firm’s employees had been linked to an outbreak of COVID in Nuuk that led to the entire worksite being locked down. Although that slowed the pace of construction, it was the travel restrictions preventing specialist staff from traveling to Greenland that led to the decision to delay the opening by a year.

The employees were to be involved with tasks, such as laying asphalt, that can only be carried out during the summer, according to Lauridsen.

“They were responsible for speeding up progress in a number of key areas that are dependent on the weather,” he said.

Kalaallit Airports has also struggled to keep pace with additional safety requirements for the new airport that have been imposed during construction.

“Taken individually, each of new requirements is manageable,” he said. “But the total amount of extra work meant that we couldn’t reach some of the necessary milestones before the end of this summer’s construction season.”

[Greenland’s airport upgrade project braces for major cost overruns]

Kalaallit Airports is also currently overseeing a similar construction project at Ilulissat airport. Although the safety requirements will need to be added to the work there, Lauridsen said previous delays to that project meant construction there was further behind Nuuk, and that they would be able to completed without delaying completion further.

The updated facilities at both airports are now expected to be taken into service in the autumn of 2024.

Currently, the vast majority of passengers traveling to Greenland from abroad transfer at Kangerlussuaq airport. Most continue on to Nuuk or Ilulissat, but short runways at both airports mean that only small planes can land there. Both are primarily served by Air Greenland’s fleet of 37-seat Dash-8-200 turboprop.