Few countries are as dependent on aviation as Greenland. With a size of 2.16 millions square kilometers (bigger than Spain, France, Germany and the UK together) and a population of only 56,000 people Greenland has by far the lowest population density on Earth. With no roads between the towns and villages the only way to get around, with the exception of the once-weekly Sarfaq Ittuq coastal ship and dogsled in winter, is flying, either by plane or by helicopter.
Only Air Greenland offers domestic flights in Greenland. The backbone of the fleet is the Dash 8 (De Havilland Canada DHC-8-200). These aircrafts are ideal for STOL (short take-off and landing) and short-haul operations with a capacity of 37 passenger seats and a fairly large cargo area. Air Greenland has 7 of this aircraft. Small villages and settlements are linked to regional airports by a fleet of Bell 212 and AS350 helicopters.
Greenland has a total of 7 airports with scheduled flights, and also 47 heliports served by scheduled, on-request, SAR (search-and-rescue) or medevac (medical evacuation) flights.
Routes from Kangerlussuaq to Aasiat, Ilulissat, Maniitsoq, Narsarsuaq, Nuuk and Sisimiut are mostly used by passengers connecting to/from Copenhagen. Flights between the main towns of Greenland such as from Nuuk to Narsarsuaq, Paamiut, Kulusuk, Aasiat, Sisimiut, Ilullissat or Upernarvik are used by Greenlanders travelling domestically.
Travelling within Greenland is very expensive. Let’s say you live in Ilulissat, the third largest town of the country and you need to go to Nuuk, the capital city to see a doctor, for shopping or for any other reason. The lowest price for a distance of 560 kms is DKK 2,000 (269 Euros) each way. The only other option is the coastal ship run by Arctic Umiaq Line which takes two nights to go from Ilulissat to Nuuk and costs DKK 1,800 each way including a couchette bed (shared dorm).
I took this flight from Kangerlussuaq to Ilulissat after arriving from Copenhagen. Kangerlussuaq is a small village with a population of 460. It is not located by the sea like almost any other populated places in Greenland but near the inland ice. The airport was built by the US Army during WW2. Although it can be very cold here during winter (the average temperature in January is -19 °C), the weather is fairly reliable here. Summers can be quite warm; +16 °C would be a typical temperature in July. Almost everybody in Kangerlussuaq works at the airport or serving transiting passengers. When the longer runways will be built in Nuuk and Ilulisssat with direct flights to/from Europe, and it will be no longer be necessary to connect here the airport will most likely only by the military and as a diversion airport.
Kangerlussuaq is not the most beautiful place in Greenland for its architecture.
A sign just outside the airport.
The terminal is built together with a large hotel built to accommodate connecting passengers when flights get cancelled. There’s a cafeteria that serves breakfast and fairly cheap lunch, and there’s also an upmarket restaurant open for dinner.
The highlight of the airport is the sign showing the distance to some major airports worldwide – and to the North Pole.
The airport has a quite an informal wibe although it can get surprisingly busy.
The flight was delayed by 15 minutes. Boarding started just a few minutes before departure. Our plane today was a Dash-8 named Aqissiaq, registration number OY-GRK, built in 1997, so almost 25 years old.
This aircraft has a total of 37 seats in 8 rows of seats in a 2+2 configuration and a last row of 5 seats.
Legroom is OK for this type of aircraft.
The plane was almost completely full as is the norm for flights in Greenland.
There’s only one cabin crew onboard these flights.
Our flight departed at 12.29 for a scheduled departure time of 12.15.
The cabin was not in a very good condition (no safety concerns though) and my window was quite scratched. Flying over Greenland at a low altitude is normally one of the most beautiful things with stunning views.
Complimentary water, coffee and tea were offered.
More views as we were flying North.
Flying near Ilulissat Icefjord
Flying over Ilulissat before landing
We landed at Ilulisat Airport at 13.06 after a flight time of 37 minutes.
Our plane after landing:
Ilulissat is Greenland’s third largest town, 250 kms north of the Artic Circle, with a population of 4600. It is the heart of Greenland’s small tourism industry.
The old church built in 1779:
You can go on an easy hike just south of the town towards the Ilulisssat Icefjord with beautiful views.
Most visitors come here to see the icebergs. The glacier of the Ilulissat Icefjord is the most powerful in the Northern Hemisphere and produces about 20,000,000,000 tonnes of icebergs every year.
You can see the icebergs from the town but the best way to approach them is to go on a boat tour.
And if you enjoy flying – and you most likely do if you're reading this flight report – don’t miss the opportunity to go on a sightseeing flight when you’re in Ilulissat. The aircraft is an Italian-made Partenavia.
The view over the Icefjord from an altitude of 1,000 feet.
The view of Ilulissat a short time before landing.
Cleared to land.
Thank you for reading my flight report.
Flying domestic flights in Greenland offers you some of the most beautiful views on Earth.