Transport in Greenland

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Nuuk Airport Nuuk airport.jpg
Nuuk Airport
The port of Uummannaq Uummannaq-Salliaruseq.jpg
The port of Uummannaq
Bus of Nuup Bussii A/S in downtown Nuuk Nuuk bus.jpg
Bus of Nuup Bussii A/S in downtown Nuuk
Kangerlussuaq Airport Kangerlussuaq overview.jpg
Kangerlussuaq Airport

The transportation system in Greenland is very unusual in that Greenland has no railways, no inland waterways, and virtually no roads between towns. Historically the major means of transportation has been by boat around the coast in summer and by dog sled in winter, particularly in the north and east. Nowadays air travel, by helicopter or other aircraft, is the main way of travel.


Air transport

While Germany occupied Denmark during World War II, the United States controlled Greenland and built bases and airports. The airports were codenamed as Bluie West One through to Bluie West Eight on the west of the island and Bluie East One to Bluie East Four on the eastern side (some had only sea plane access, some no air access). The largest of those airports, Bluie West Eight, now renamed Kangerlussuaq Airport, remains the international hub for travel to Greenland, as it is the only airport that has a long enough runway to service large jets (not counting Thule Airbase). American authorities at one time entertained the idea of building a road from Kangerlussuaq to the second-largest airport, in Narsarsuaq, several hundred kilometres to the south. The idea was abandoned after feasibility studies failed to prove it was possible. These airbases are generally not located near settlements, so travellers need an air transfer by helicopter (small plane from Kangerlussuaq) to reach settlements. All civil aviation matters are handled by the Civil Aviation Administration Denmark or the Greenland Airport Authority.

Greenland now has 18 airstrips, 14 of which are paved. Some are based on US airbases, but most are built by the Greenlandic government. All domestic flights are operated by Air Greenland. The name was anglicized in 2002 from the Danish Grønlandsfly (Greenlandair in English). International flights are limited to four weekly flights from Copenhagen to Kangerlussuaq, and to Reykjavík, Iceland.

Icelandair flies from Reykjavík to Narsarsuaq. It offers also "day trips to the wilderness" from Reykjavík to Kulusuk on the east coast. Icelandair flies to Ittoqqortoormiit over[ via? ] Kulusuk once or twice a week throughout the year. Flights from Reykjavik are operated throughout the year. Also, year-round flights from Reykjavik to Ilulissat will be offered after April 2011.[ needs update ] From 2012 Air Greenland operates a route from Iqaluit in Canada to Nuuk during summer.

Air cargo is very important for Greenland. Most perishable foodstuff is imported from Denmark by air. It uses the Air Greenland Copenhagen–Kangerlussuaq passenger aircraft, and this is a reason why such a large aircraft is used.[ clarification needed ] The air containers are then transported to the other airports by small planes that can use the small runways. Some air cargo is transported by boat from Kangerlussuaq, but not in the winter when the Kangerlussuaq Fjord freezes (one of the reasons to build the Sisimiut–Kangerlussuaq road).

A state-owned firm called Kalaallit Airports is since 2017 tasked with operating and updating the airports in Nuuk and Ilulissat. [1] This process has been contentious as Chinese firms bid for the contract, with one Danish PM stating "We don't want a communist dictatorship in our backyard." [2]


There are no roads between settlements, only within them and around them. There are 150 km (90 mi) of roads in the whole country; 60 km (40 mi) of the roads are paved. The roads are primary or local roads, there are no highways in Greenland.

Speed limit ranges from 50 kilometres per hour (31 mph) for local roads to 80 kilometres per hour (50 mph) on primary roads.

Some farms in the south have fairly extensive very simple roads for all-terrain vehicles (not included in the above figures), used for sheep farming and hay collection. There are some other short simple gravel roads, such as that leading from the shore to hydropower plants.

There are plans for a 170-kilometre-long (110 mi) road between Sisimiut and Kangerlussuaq, discussed for several years. In 2015 the cost of it (500 million Danish krone) caused it to be replanned as a one-lane road for terrain-capable vehicles, costing a tenth as much (50 million Danish krone). It was decided including financing[ clarification needed ] in 2019, a contract with a construction company signed in 2020 and is expected to be built in 2021.[ update needed ] [3] [4]

Water transport

There are ports at Ilulissat, Kangerlussuaq (also known by its Danish name Søndre Strømfjord), Qaqortoq, Narsaq, Nuuk (Godthåb), Aasiaat and Sisimiut. Several other towns have also small ports. The main users of the harbors are Royal Arctic Line and Arctic Umiaq Line. Royal Arctic Line organises freight ships, for example container ships, with regular sailings from Denmark. Arctic Umiaq Line runs a passenger ship which also carries freight. The distance from Denmark to Nuuk by ship is 3,800 kilometres (2,400 mi/2,000 nmi/4 days at 20 knots), so more perishable foodstuff is imported by air.

There are no car ferries in or to Greenland. It is possible to transport cars as container freight with Royal Arctic Line (both domestic and from Denmark). Passengers must travel by another method. This is done mostly when moving or buying a car, not normally when travelling, as there is no large road network anywhere.

Many of the tourists to Greenland arrive by cruise ship.


Historically, special-purpose narrow gauge railways, such as the 600 mm (1 ft 11+58 in) gauge Qoornoq X-press in the village of Qoornoq in the Nuuk fjord, have operated. The Qoornoq X-press was used for transporting fish from the harbour to scaffolds for drying. [5] The railway cars were only flatbed wagon cars with no locomotives to move them. [6]

Built in 1955, the railway was abandoned shortly before the village around 1971. [7]

Besides Qoornoq there are several other railways that existed in Greenland: [8]

Related Research Articles

Kangerlussuaq Place in Greenland, Kingdom of Denmark

Kangerlussuaq, , is a settlement in western Greenland in the Qeqqata municipality located at the head of the fjord of the same name. It is Greenland's main air transport hub and the site of Greenland's largest commercial airport. The airport dates from American settlement during and after World War II, when the site was known as Bluie West-8 and then Sondrestrom Air Base. The Kangerlussuaq area is also home to Greenland's most diverse terrestrial fauna, including muskoxen, caribou, and gyrfalcons. The settlement's economy and population of 508 is almost entirely reliant on the airport and tourist industry.

Ilulissat Place in Greenland, Kingdom of Denmark

Ilulissat, formerly Jakobshavn or Jacobshaven, is the municipal seat and largest town of the Avannaata municipality in western Greenland, located approximately 350 km (220 mi) north of the Arctic Circle. With the population of 4,670 as of 2020, it is the third-largest city in Greenland, after Nuuk and Sisimiut. The city is home to almost as many sled-dogs as people.

Narsarsuaq Place in Greenland, Kingdom of Denmark

Narsarsuaq is a settlement in the Kujalleq municipality in southern Greenland. It had 123 inhabitants in 2020. There is a thriving tourism industry in and around Narsarsuaq, whose attractions include a great diversity of wildlife, gemstones, tours to glaciers, and an airfield museum.

Air Greenland Flag carrier airline of Greenland

Air Greenland A/S, also known as Greenlandair, is the flag carrier airline of Greenland, owned by the Greenlandic Government. It operates a fleet of 32 aircraft, including 1 airliner used for transatlantic and charter flights, 9 fixed-wing aircraft primarily serving the domestic network, and 22 helicopters feeding passengers from the smaller communities into the domestic airport network. Flights to heliports in the remote settlements are operated on contract with the government of Greenland.

Narsarsuaq Air Base

Bluie West One, later known as Narsarsuaq Air Base and Narsarsuaq Airport, was built on a glacial moraine at what is now the village of Narsarsuaq, near the southern tip of Greenland. Construction by the United States Army began in June 1941. The first aircraft landed there in January 1942, as a link in the North Atlantic air ferry route in World War II. The base had a peak population of about 4,000 American servicemen, and it is estimated that some 10,000 aircraft landed there en route to the war in Europe and North Africa.

Nuuk Airport

Nuuk Airport (Greenlandic: Mittarfik Nuuk; Danish: Godthåb Lufthavn; is an airport serving Nuuk, the capital of Greenland. The airport is a technical base and focus city for Air Greenland, the flag carrier airline of Greenland, linking the capital with several towns in western and south-western part of the country, including the airline hub at Kangerlussuaq Airport. With connections to Iceland, Nuuk Airport is also one of six international airports in Greenland but serves only destinations within Greenland and Iceland. International connections are made with flights to either Keflavík International Airport in Iceland or Kangerlussuaq Airport.

Kangerlussuaq Airport

Kangerlussuaq Airport is an airport in Kangerlussuaq, a settlement in the Qeqqata municipality in central-western Greenland. Alongside Narsarsuaq Airport, it is one of only two civilian airports in Greenland large enough to handle large airliners. It is located away from the coast and hence less prone to fog and wind in comparison with other airports in Greenland. Kangerlussuaq Airport is the international hub for Air Greenland. The Kangerlussuaq area has very few inhabitants, so few passengers have their origin or destination here; most passengers change planes.

Sisimiut Place in Greenland, Kingdom of Denmark

Sisimiut, formerly known by its colonial name Holsteinsborg, is the capital and largest city of the Qeqqata municipality, the second-largest city in Greenland, and the largest arctic city in North America. It is located in central-western Greenland, on the coast of Davis Strait, approximately 320 km (200 mi) north of Nuuk.

Narsarsuaq Airport Airport located in Narsarsuaq, Kujalleq, Greenland

Narsarsuaq Airport is an airport located in Narsarsuaq, a settlement in the Kujalleq municipality in southern Greenland. Along with Kangerlussuaq Airport, it is one of two airports in Greenland capable of serving large airliners. It is also the only international airport in southern Greenland. The settlement it serves is small, with the airport primarily functioning as a transfer point for passengers heading for the helicopter hubs of Air Greenland in Qaqortoq and Nanortalik.

Itilleq Place in Greenland, Kingdom of Denmark

Itilleq is a settlement in the Qeqqata municipality in central-western Greenland. It is located on a small island around 1 km from the mainland, 45 km south of Sisimiut and 2 km north of the Arctic Circle on the shores of Davis Strait. It had 89 inhabitants in 2020.

Sarfannguit Place in Greenland, Kingdom of Denmark

Sarfannguit is a settlement in the Qeqqata municipality in central-western Greenland. Its population was 96 in 2020. The settlement was founded in 1843.

Sondrestrom Air Base

Sondrestrom Air Base, originally Bluie West-8, was a United States Air Force base in central Greenland. The site is located 60 mi (97 km) north of the Arctic Circle and 90 mi (140 km) from the northeast end of Kangerlussuaq Fjord. The base is approximately 11 mi (18 km) west-northwest of Ravneklippen and 80 mi (130 km) east of Sisimiut.

Sisimiut Airport

Sisimiut Airport is an airport located 2.2 NM northwest of Sisimiut, a town in the Qeqqata municipality in central-western Greenland. The airport has a single runway designated 13/31 which measures 799 by 30 m, built on the northern shore of Kangerluarsunnguaq Bay.

Royal Arctic Line A/S (RAL) or Royal Arctic is a seaborne freight company in Greenland, wholly owned by the Government of Greenland. It was formed in 1993, and is headquartered in Nuuk.

Tunulliarfik Fjord

Tunulliarfik Fjord is a fjord near Qaqortoq in the Kujalleq municipality in southern Greenland. It is the inner section of Skovfjord (Skovfjorden). In times of the Norse settlement in southern Greenland, it was known as Eiriksfjord.

Amerloq Fjord

Amerloq Fjord is a 36 km (22 mi) long fjord in the Qeqqata municipality in western Greenland. The fjord empties into the Davis Strait just south of Sisimiut, whose former Inuit name was also "Amerloq".


  1. "Greenland picks Denmark as airport project partner over Beijing". Reuters. 2018-09-10. Retrieved 2018-12-19.
  2. Simpson, John (2018-12-18). "Could Greenland become China's Arctic base?". BBC News. Retrieved 2018-12-19.
  3. Arctic Circle Road realiseres!
  4. "Kontrakt for anlæggelse af ATV spor fra Kangerlussuaq mod Kangerluarsuk Tulleq (første fjord) er indgået" [Contract for construction of ATV track from Kangerlussuaq towards Kangerluarsuk Tulleq has been concluded] (in Danish). Qeqqata Kommunia. 2020-07-10. Retrieved 2020-10-02.
  5. "Narrow gauge railway on Greenland" . Retrieved June 17, 2011.

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