Gas Pollution Warning Near Mýrdalsjökull

Mýrdalsjökull

The Icelandic Met Office warns there is a risk of gas pollution to the east of Mýrdalsjökull glacier, not far from the village of Vík í Mýrdal, in South Iceland. In a post on its Facebook page, the IMO urges travellers in the area to be cautious, particularly in low-lying areas.

The gas pollution is thought to be a consequence of geothermal water leaking from under the Mýrdalsjökull ice cap and seeping into the Múlakvísl river. This has increased the river’s conductivity in recent days. Travellers in the area around the ice cap have also reported a significant smell of sulfur (hydrogen sulfide).

“Due to geothermal activity below the glacier, meltwater accumulates beneath cauldrons on the glacier and at a certain point finds a way from there to the glacial rivers,” explains the post. “It is quite common that it happens during the summer when surface melt on the glacier has started.”

 

Icelandair to Operate Charter Flights Between US and Armenia

Starting this month, Icelandair will begin operating a limited number of charter flights to transport about 1,000 people from Los Angeles, US to Yerevan, Armenia, RÚV reports.

The initiative is being undertaken in order to repatriate Armenian citizens and residents who have been stranded in the US as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and is a collaboration between Icelandair, the Armenian government, the transportation company Cross Line, and the Icelandic consul in Armenia. Almost a million people of Armenian origin live in and around LA.

Per armeniatourinfo, the charter flights will be open to Armenian citizens, as well as foreign nationals who have the right of permanent residence in Armenia and/or a close relative (spouse, parent, or child) living in the country. Economy class tickets will be priced at $1,350 (ISK 189,000/€1,200).

The exact number of flights has not been set yet, but the first will depart from LA on July 11. Each flight can accommodate 260 passengers and will be staffed with 9-12 crew members, according to Icelandair’s current operating procedures: two to three pilots and six flight attendants.

Icelandair CEO Bogi Nils Bogason remarked that the contract is a welcome addition to the airline’s cargo flights from China to Europe and North America: “Projects like this bring this company increased revenue and create work for employees, as the preparations and organisation take place in Iceland. This is a good example of the flexibility that Icelandair and its subsidiaries have to take on short notice.”

Prison Closure in Akureyri Faces Opposition

prison

The Minister of Justice says the planned closure of Akureyri Prison in North Iceland will allow for better use of funding within the prison system. Six hundred and thirty-eight people are on a waiting list to serve sentences due to lack of space in prisons, RÚV reports. The decision has faced opposition from the City of Akureyri and others.

Minister of Justice Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir asserts closing the prison will free up funding for three times the number of spots in prisons in the Southwest. Funding for ten spots at Akureyri Prison could fund 30 spots in Hólmsheiði and Litla Hraun Prisons in Southwest Iceland. Akureyri City Council criticised the decision, however, saying it goes against the government’s policy to increase public jobs outside the capital area. The prison currently employs five people.

“This is of course not an insignificant decision and it is our policy to move jobs out to the countryside, but it also has to be in a way that creates jobs that pay off,” Áslaug Arna said. “Here, of course, we’re seeing that prison utilisation and the cost of operating this prison are very heavy. We are both less than 80% utilization of prison spaces, we don’t see increased funding in prisons in the near future and it’s possible to use 30 spots in the big prisons for the same funds as we use ten in the north.” Áslaug says the government will continue to work to increase public service jobs outside of the Reykjavík capital area.

Record Real Estate Movement in May and June

apartments downtown Reykjavík housing

Movement on Iceland’s real estate market broke records in May and June, increasing by around 50% compared to the same period last year. Banks also approved a record ISK 22.3 billion ($159 million/€140.5 million) in new housing loans in May. Experts say historically low interest rates have encouraged buyers, despite the downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The data comes from the Húsnæðis og Mannvirkjastofnun (HMS)’s monthly report. HMS’s CEO Þorsteinn Arnalds told RÚV it’s difficult to pinpoint the cause of growth. Some economic uncertainty in the fall of 2018 may have led to a build-up of people wanting to buy but waiting for a better opportunity. “And then definitely factors such as lower interest rates have pushed many, because it’s definitely possible for many people to buy up without increasing their debt to income ratio greatly or that sort of thing.”

Housing prices have risen by 5.5% in Reykjavík between May of 2019 and 2020. There was also an increase in notarised purchase agreements in the rest of the country.

Cabin Crew Rejects Icelandair’s Second Contract Offer

Icelandair cabin crew

Members of the Icelandic Cabin Crew Association (FFÍ) have voted down the collective agreement signed by Icelandair and the association late last month. It’s the second contract to be rejected by the members in what FFÍ’s chairperson has called “very heavy and complicated” negotiations.

The contract was voted down by 72.65% of voters, while 26.46% approved it and 0.89% turned in blank ballots. Voter turnout was 85.3% – 786 of the 921 eligible members cast a vote.

“The FFÍ board and negotiation committee thanks its members for the solidarity and support that has prevailed within the group in the last months,” a statement on FFÍ’s website reads. “Voter turnout was very good and shows the responsibility and interest members have regarding their working conditions and working environment. The fact that the new collective agreement was voted down clearly shows that members believe the streamlining demands of the new contract went too far. The board and negotiation committee will now review the issue and will return to meet when the state mediator calls with a strong will to negotiate as before.”

Icelandair Cannot Compromise Further, CEO Says

Icelandair’s CEO Bogi Nils Bogason expressed disappointment over the vote’s results. “Unfortunately it’s a difficult position to be in because [Icelandair] can’t budge further,” Bogi told RÚV reporters. “Our goal number one, two, and three has been to complete the contract renewal with FFÍ. But if that doesn’t happen then of course we must consider other options. We are going to save our company.”

Bogi declined to comment on what other options the company was considering. He insisted that the airline’s financial restructuring, and promised government support, hinges on signing a long-term contract with FFÍ.