Direct flight between Canada and Greenland could strengthen cultural, language ties

A Greenlandic flag flies above a building overlooking the Davis Strait in Nuuk, Greenland. Negotiations surrounding the creation of a direct flight between Iqaluit and Nuuk bring hope to families living on both sides of the strait. (Matisse Harvey/Radio-Canada)

When Navarana Beveridge finally takes a long-overdue trip home to Greenland from Nunavut, she’ll have two options for getting there: the long way, or the expensive way.

Beveridge used to visit her country of birth every year before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. She got used to spending a few days plane-hopping to Ottawa, Toronto and Iceland before circling around to Nuuk — the only option aside from spending $30,000 chartering a plane.

There hasn’t been a direct commercial flight between Iqaluit and Nuuk, the capital of Greenland, for seven years, but Beveridge and other people from Greenland who live in Nunavut say it’s about time airlines brought one back.

“There’s so [many] common areas of interest and shared history in terms of similarities in language, culture, worldview, history,” Beveridge said, not to mention economic opportunities between Canada and Greenland.

Beveridge is Denmark’s honorary consul in Iqaluit, a volunteer position that allows her to act as a resource for Nunavummiut to access information about Greenland, Denmark and the Faroe Islands. She said it also allows her to work with the Trade Council of Denmark.

“Canada and Denmark are similar enough that there’s some natural interest … between the jurisdictions, and Canada’s actually one of the strongest growing export markets for Danish companies,” she said.

“I think it’s a great idea to have that direct [flight] as there’s so much opportunity for the two jurisdictions to work together. I think it would be a mutually beneficial arrangement.”

An Air Greenland Dash 8-200 aircraft prepares to take off on the current Nuuk airstrip. The airport is being rebuilt to accommodate bigger planes and better technology. (Matisse Harvey/Radio-Canada)
Possible flight up in the air

Canadian North and Air Greenland have been talking about resuming a direct flight between the two cities, though that hasn’t materialized yet. Both companies declined to comment for this article.

In December 2020, the companies announced they had signed a letter of intent to look at partnerships that could bring flights from Iqaluit to Nuuk or Ilulissat in Greenland, as Canadian North had planned to expand its fleet of aircraft with two Boeing 737-700s.

(CBC News)

Aaju Peter, who moved to Iqauit from Nuuk in 1981, said a direct flight would make it easier for her Canadian family to meet her Greenlandic family. She also misses the country food and her friends back in Nuuk.

The return of a direct flight across the Davis Strait, bringing the time of travel down to a couple hours at the most, could help bring Inuit in both countries together, she said.

“We talk about unemployment, we talk about a lack of housing, we talk about losing language — there’s many similarities that we could open up more dialogue,” Peter said.

She said she’s sad to see more routes open up from Iqaluit to the south — such as Canadian North’s recently announced flight to Toronto — when flights joining Iqaluit to other northern cities are lacking.

Aaju Peter moved to Iqauit from Nuuk in 1981. (Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC)
New airport, new possibilities

Any potential flight to Greenland would need to work with that country’s infrastructure, though. The airport in Nuuk has a short 945-metre runway that’s only big enough for propeller planes. The fact pilots need to do a visual approach — meaning they have to see the airport and runway in order to land — means fog or bad weather interrupts many flights.

Jens Lauridsen, the CEO of Kalaallit Airports in Nuuk, estimates about 13 per cent of flights can’t land.

That’s all set to change over the next couple years with the new airport his company is building in Nuuk, which will let planes use instrument landing systems. It’ll have a longer, wider runway as well, meaning bigger planes can use it.

Jens Lauridsen, the CEO of Kalaallit Airports in Greenland, says new airports are part of an effort from Greenland’s government to bolster the country’s tourism sector. (Matisse Harvey/Radio-Canada)

Lauridsen said the main reason for the project is that Greenland’s government wants to expand its economy.

“The whole intention of this is definitely to grow the tourism sector of the economy as a whole,” he said.

Lauridsen said he’s in close contact with Air Greenland and confirmed there are still talks going on about the partnership with Canadian North.

“I don’t have the current status on what the discussions are, but we would love to have Canadian North come,” he said.

With files from Matisse Harvey, Radio-Canada

Related stories from around the North:

Finland: Finland unveils plan for electric aircraft routes across Lapland region, Yle News

Greenland: Failed Danish social experiment haunts Greenlandic survivors taken from families 70 years ago, CBC Radio

Norway: Can crossborder cooperation help decolonize Sami-language education?, Eye on the Arctic

United Kingdom: Greenland and U.K. launch free trade agreement negotiations, Eye on the Arctic

April Hudson, CBC News

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