An airport and a fuelling station
Text: Ole G Jensen
Narsarsuaq was built by the Americans in 1941 at the beginning of WWII and it can celebrate its 75th anniversary this summer. It was one of several bases that were built in Greenland.
It should have been closed down when the last Americans left the base in 1958, but with the tragedy of the sinking of the liner Hans Hedtoft in January 1959, it became obvious there was a need for rescue and ice warning services. Narsarsuaq, where the runway and many of the buildings were still intact, was resurrected as a civilian airport.
Emergency landing site
One of the reasons for its establishment in 1941 was the need for a place to touch down and refuel for the many aircraft on the way to the battlefields of Europe. It also functioned as an emergency runway together with other bases in Greenland in case of technical problems or bad weather.
Today, most people know Narsarsuaq as an airport in South Greenland with connections to domestic destinations and to Denmark and Iceland. Few people think about the fact that Narsarsuaq still functions as an emergency runway and a fuelling station for the many transatlantic aircraft flying between Europe and North America. In addition, it is still the base for ice patrols in South Greenland.
Although technology and aircraft range has improved greatly over the intervening years, Narsarsuaq’s location still has significant importance for trans- atlantic air traffic.
It is not surprising, if you think there are many contrails in the sky, because hundreds of aircraft fly over Greenland every day, headed in all directions. These aircraft need an alternative airport in case of problems and Narsarsuaq still plays a big role here. The airport is manned and open if an aircraft experiences difficulties. This service is paid for with a so-called ETOPS fee. (This stands for Extended-range Twin-engine Operational Performance Standards.)
Fortunately, it is rare for an aircraft to make an emergency landing here, but Narsarsuaq is ready.
Narsarsuaq is used as a fuelling station for many small aircraft – aircraft that are not able to carry enough fuel for long trips.
They purchase fuel to the value of about DKK 5 million and also contribute with opening fees and airport taxes.
All this activity takes place during the summer months. It is a busy time, where many interesting aircraft can be seen at this historic airport which is still very important, with its unique location between Europe and North America.
Narsarsuaq Airport in figures
- Etops-fees: about DKK 3.4 million annually
- Number of takeoffs in 2014: 3085
- Hereof »fuelling station« aircraft: about 600
- The remaining takeoffs are Air Greenland and Air Iceland aircraft.
- Fuel sales: about DKK 5 mill for small aircraft and a similar amount for scheduled airliners.
Info from Mittarfeqarfiit
Mittarfeqarfiit, Greenland Airports, provides services for a series of airlines, for Greenland and for international companies with activities all over Greenland.
Mittarfeqarfiit is responsible for the overall infrastructure regarding air transport of people and cargo in 13 airports and 46 heliports.
Mittarfeqarfiit is one of the country’s largest workplaces, with more than 450 employees.
In 1941, the USA built an air base in Narsarsuaq called Bluie West One (BW1). Narsarsuaq airport is located at 61 09 38.59N 045 25 32.43W and its runway measures 1830m x 45m. In 2015, 23,084 passengers flew from Narsarsuaq and there were 3,165 aircraft departures.