Opening the Ilulissat Airport, Greenland, 1985



Today's Danes, being direct Viking descendants, are by nature, "explorers."

The longest road in Greenland is approximately 14 miles, going from Kangerlussuag (formerly known as Sondrestrom Air Base) to the deep water shipping port on the Sondrestrom Fjord. Within one or two days, after arriving at Sondy, most Danes had traveled those 14 miles at least once or twice. Their heritage demands more; they were thirsty for additional "exploring."

New arrivals soon heard about the Sondy Danish/American Aero Club. All the aircraft were owned by the Danish Aero Club; however the club officers were wise enough to add "Danish/American" to the title, hoping to attract some American military and contract workers for flights … it worked!

Danes learn about Greenland at the earliest of school ages, if not before, from their parents. They wanted to experience the "real" Greenland. To provide that "real" Greenland experience, aero club pilots were called upon for local fights to the glacier's edge, down the 90 mile Sondrestrom Fjord to Holsteinborg, and often to Nuuk, Greenland's capital city.

For us pilots, those flights soon became routine; we looked for additional places to land and walk around. In the early 1980s, we learned Ilulissat (Jakobshaven) would get a runway. Great! Ilulissat had restaurants, a museum, shopping and hotels … almost like being in Denmark or the USA …almost!

Usually every Saturday morning, the club would have one or two aircraft going to Ilulissat. Two aircraft close to each other in flight was always a treat for both passengers and pilots.



Our pilots, and potential passengers, were very anxious to visit Ilulissat via the Aero Club aircraft for several reasons. First, the cost of a helicopter flight was approximately four times the cost of a shared aero club aircraft. Second, the commercial helicopter pilot would always fly the same route, which was ok, however a club pilot would adjust the flight to satisfy passenger requests, such as getting very low over the Sermeq Kujalleq Galcier. Third, a club pilot, after landing in Ilulissat, became a local guide, walking through the village or a one hour walk to the edge of the glacier.

Approximately three months before the official airport opening, the airport runway contractor reported to the Sondy Aero club that the runway was suitable for landing, however it was at our own risk and there were no facilities open at the airport.



The airport is located approximately 3 km (2 miles) northeast of the city, so we phoned ahead to the local taxi company (299 944 944) requesting a taxi be at the runway at a predesigned time. It worked!



Visiting Ilulissat (Jakobshaven) and walking out to the Sermeq Kujalleq Glacier's edge is one of the few places in the world where you really experience giant icebergs up close. Rumors around Sondy Air Base was that the "Titanic" struck a calved iceberg from Ilulissat. Mention "giant icebergs," "Titanic," and "cheap flight" around Sondy and we were busy every weekend.



Sermeq Kujalleq Glacer is the largest glacier in the Northern Hemisphere that flows directly into the sea. The Ilulissat Glacier produces an amount of fresh water per day equivalent to the amount of water used by the residents of Copenhagen in a two year period.

Finally, in the summer of 1985, the Ilulissat Airport officially opened and thus a helicopter flight was no longer the only way to visit Jakobshaven, the Sermeq Kujalleq Glacier and the local museum. Sondy Aero club officers decided we would send three aircraft to the official opening day ceremonies -- a Piper Cherokee 140 (OY-BCK), a Piper Cherokee 180 (OY-DKK) and a Piper Archer (OY-BRA). If you have already read "Sondy Super Cub Recovery," you know why we did not fly OY-EAM to Ilulissat.



Soon flights to Ilulissat Airport became routine, almost like getting into your own vehicle and doing some shopping. I suppose using the word "routine" is inappropriate. Every day in Greenland was a unique experience. Friends from that time in Greenland often remark how once in awhile they will be doing something routine and up pops a nice Greenland memory of clear blue skies, the Greenland topography, giant icebergs and friendships.



In May 1989, I retired from the US Air Force as an air traffic controller. My Danish wife, Susanne, and I decided to travel around the USA and Canada for one year before finding new jobs and a place to settle down.

Alaska seemed to have a similar life style as one we had in Greenland … and after almost 20 years we are still in Alaska. Almost immediately, Susanne began working in the Intensive Care Unit at Providence Hospital in Anchorage. I looked for something in aviation.

I've worked as an aircraft mechanic, pilot and now airport manager for the Lake Hood Seaplane Base (LHD) in Anchorage. Part time I've flown Alaskan visitors to remote places in Alaska; flown moose and bear hunters to isolated locations; and spent six years as the only pilot for a gold mining operation in the foothills of "Denali," the largest mountain in North America.

From recent news reports it appears Disko Bay in Greenland no longer freezes during winter months. I can still picture giant icebergs from the Sermeq Kujalleq Glacier frozen solid in Disko Bay, not able to move away from Jakobshaven until spring of the next year.

In Alaska I have experienced something similar. The next picture shows two small glaciers flowing into a lake, created by glacier melt. Years ago, during the summer, this small glacial lake would have maybe two or three icebergs. This picture was taken in the summer of 2007.

I am not saying, "There is definitely global warming!" However, whether the earth is undergoing cyclical warming or mankind has accelerated this warming effect, in Alaska I have noticed a change in iceberg calving caused by just a few degree temperature change.