Iceland Launches Subsidised Flights for Countryside Residents

Loftbrú subsidised flights

Residents of Iceland who live far from Reykjavík can now book subsidised flights to the capital three times a year. Transport Minister Sigurður Ingi Jóhannssón launched the initiative at a press conference in Egilsstaðir, East Iceland this afternoon. The project, called Loftbrú (Eng: Air Bridge), is intended to make services in the capital area more accessible to residents of the countryside.

Loftbrú is based on a similar initiative in Scotland ensuring affordable transportation to and from that country’s islands and highlands. Loftbrú applies to all registered residents of the Westfjords, Northeast Iceland, East Iceland, Hornafjörður (Southeast Iceland), the Westman Islands, and parts of Northwest Iceland. The subsidy covers 40% of the cost of scheduled flights to and from Reykjavík, regardless of whether they are full price or discounted. Each individual is eligible for up to three trips (six flights) per year through the initiative – though just one for the remainder of 2020.

Air Iceland Connect’s booking engine gives a good sense of the cost of domestic flights in Iceland. A return trip between Egilsstaðir and Reykjavík September 11-18, 2020 with one checked bag adds up to ISK 44,325 ($315/€267) for a single traveller. With the Loftbrú subsidy, the cost lowers to ISK 26,595 ($189/€160).

The subsidies are available to residents through island.is, the government’s official electronic services portal. Loftbrú is working on offering the same subsidy to students from the countryside temporarily residing in the capital area. That initiative is expected to be launched by the end of the year.

Loftbrú is expected to cost Iceland’s government ISK 600 million ($4.3m/€3.6m) per year, and ISK 200 million ($1.4m/€1.2m) in 2020. Funding to the project was allocated in the government’s transportation plan that was approved in June 2020.

Frost Damage Forces Farmers to Buy Hay

Farmers in North and East Iceland will likely need to purchase hay in order to keep their sheep fed this winter, due to heavy spring frost, RÚV reports. Sveinbjörn Þór Sigurðsson of Búvellir farm in Aðaldalur, North Iceland says 80-90% of his hayfields were frozen in spring, and dry weather exacerbated the situation.

The tables have turned since 2018, when Icelandic farmers’ hay harvest was so abundant they sold to drought-plagued Norway. This year a cold spring has made haymaking a challenge for many farmers in Iceland.

The weather improved at Búvellir in the summer and Sveinbjörn has managed to make enough hay for his winter supply. Other farmers have not been as lucky, however. Geir Árdal of Dæli farm has had to purchase hay for his livestock. “We’ve bought about 300 bales,” he told reporters. “Of course it’s much better to make hay if you can do it yourself.”

Weather in South and West Iceland has been more favourable: farmers there are not facing hay shortages in those regions this season.

Custody Extended for Suspect in Fatal Fire

fire Vesturgata Bræðraborgarstígur

A man who was arrested following a fatal house fire last June will remain in custody, RÚV reports. Reykjavík District Court has confirmed his continued custody until September 18. The man is believed to have started the fire, which killed three individuals and left others in hospital with serious injuries. The incident is being investigated as voluntary manslaughter.

Read More: Fire Sparks Conversation About Working Conditions Facing Foreigners

In a detention order from July 15, when the suspect’s detention was first extended, stated the man was suspected of violating Article 211 of the General Penal Code. The article stipulates that a person who takes another person’s life shall be sentenced to no less than five years in prison and up to life imprisonment.

According to police, the investigation into the incident is going well.

Building Was a Ticking Time Bomb

The house, situated on Bræðraborgarstígur 1, is on a list of illegal residential housing published by the fire brigade in 2017. The building was reported on as far back as 2015 in Stundin newspaper regarding sub-standard housing for foreign workers. At the time, a Reykjavík city building inspector commented that the house was to be inspected. Investigative journalism programme Kveikur took up the matter of illegal residence in the house in 2017. The registered owner of the house is local contractor HD Verk, whose owners have not made any comments on the fire. The building had also been rented by temporary work agencies Seigla and Menn í Vinnu.

“We’ve had a ticking time bomb here for years regarding [foreign workers’] conditions,” stated CEO of Efling Union Viðar Þorsteinnson in an interview on the fire. Viðar criticised the Ministry of Justice for placing emphasis on arresting undocumented workers while “Employers who are responsible for this activity, who are the perpetrators of criminal activity on the Icelandic labour market – they walk free.”