Norway follows Sweden with plans for a new airport; highlights that in isolated regions air travel remains vital ingredient in the travel mix

Strangely, for countries where environmental activism is at its height and aviation taxes punitive, Sweden opened a new airport just before Christmas while Norway now plans a new one. Both are or will be in remote areas where there are isolated communities which cannot realistically use rail to travel any distance and are also where their presence will promote the tourism on which they depend.

The Swedish airport was at Sälen on the Swedish/Norwegian border, named ‘Scandinavian Mountains Airport’ and the centre of this previous report from The Blue Swan DailyNew European airports are few and far between but Santa Claus delivered one to a mountainous region on the Swedish/Norwegian border in time for the holidays

Now Avinor, Norway’s state airport operator, and the Norwegian Public Roads Administration, have recommended the construction of a new major airport at Leknes with associated road infrastructure to support traffic. Avinor says this “provides the best social economy, and will provide good development and benefits for the population and business as a result of faster and cheaper direct connection to Oslo”.

The airport operator also notes that the better road connections “will increase the utility of the major airport and strengthen interaction and business development throughout the region”. The project requires an investment of NOK6.4 billion (EUR642.5 million), including NOK2.5 billion (EUR251.0 million) for the airport project.

Most of us outside of the Nordic region or Scandinavia, would not have a clue where Leknes is! It is a town in Nordland County, Norway. The town is also the administrative centre of the municipality of Vestvågøy, which with 10,764 inhabitants is the most populous municipality in Lofoten and Vesterålen.

MAP – Leknes is a town in Nordland county, Norway. It is situated in the geographical middle of the Lofoten archipelago on the island of VestvågøyaSource: Google Maps

‘Lofoten’ refers to the Lofoten islands, an archipelago known for distinctive scenery with dramatic mountains and peaks, open sea and sheltered bays, and beaches. It lies approximately 170 kilometres (106 miles) inside the Arctic Circle, or approximately 2,420 km (1512 m) away from the North Pole, thus making Lofoten one of the world’s northernmost populated regions. Despite its location, the archipelago experiences one of the world’s largest elevated temperature anomalies relative to its high latitude.

The Lofoten Islands are well-known in culture. Add to that abundant wildlife, bird watching, surfing, walking and climbing, and natural light that inspires artists, and Lofoten paints a picture of an attractive environment for visitors.

The larger islands of Lofoten are well connected by road. The European E10 road runs through them via bridges and tunnels and connects with the mainland. Cruise ships, including Hurtigruten’s own MS Lofoten, frequently ply their trade. But air transport is not so well developed even though there is in fact already an airport at Leknes, owned and managed by Avinor. The reason: its runway is only 880m long!

The airport is served exclusively by Widerøe with STOL Dash-8 turboprops aircraft connecting the short hop to Bodø and to Tromso under public service obligation criteria. Last year it handled just over 130,000 passengers.

Flights to Oslo via Bodø take about three hours with connecting routes with both Widerøe and SAS Scandinavian Airlines. There are up to seven daily Bodø flights. Widerøe flights are often at obscure hours. After 11pm they are often the only ones in the sky in northern Norway other than over-flights.

In fact, Lofoten as a whole is not cut off. It can be accessed too by other airports such as Svolvær, Stokmarknes, Røst, and Harstad/Narvik but that is not an ideal scenario.

Presumably, Avinor’s objective would be build, around the existing airport or separately, a new one which could handle single-aisle jet types which could fly directly to and from major centres of population in Norway such as Oslo, Bergen, Stavanger and Trondheim, but also to foreign cities for purposes of trade but mainly tourism. Avinor sets great store by these airports which are identified on a ‘key international airports’ map on the ‘network’ page of its website.

The importance of air connectivity to islands was a topic of debate at The CAPA World Aviation Outlook Summit in Malta in Dec-2019, where well-known aviation executive Rigas Doganis, chairman of the European Aviation Club, while countering the position of environmentalists, highlighted that many island communities throughout Europe are highly reliant on aviation and some could not even function without it.

Norway has several of them in its offshore territories and even closer to home in the form of the Lofoten Islands, which Mr Doganis specifically mentioned. So this initiative by Avinor, if it reaches fruition, should put Lofoten back on the map.

LEARN MORE… In all cases, Europe’s island markets have a much higher propensity for air travel than other leading aviation markets. The small island territories depend much more on air travel to maintain vital links with the rest of the world. In addition, they have often successfully marketed themselves as popular tourist destinations (and as an aviation connecting hub, in the case of Iceland).