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Reykjavík City Airport flugvöllur
Photo: Golli. Reykjavík City Airport.

Reykjanes Eruptions Impact Airport Relocation Plans

Seismic and volcanic activity on Southwest Iceland’s Reykjanes peninsula affects the viability of building an airport at Hvassahraun, halfway between Reykjavík and Keflavík International Airport, Iceland’s Prime Minister told RÚV. Hvassahraun was previously selected as the most viable site for relocating Reykjavík City Airport, which is currently located near the city centre. Iceland’s Transport Minister stated yesterday there are diminishing chances an airport will be built at Hvassahraun.

Reykjanes entering phase of volcanic activity

An eruption began yesterday afternoon on the Reykjanes peninsula, near Fagradalsfjall, where another eruption occurred just last year. Prior to these two eruptions, no eruptions had occurred on the peninsula for nearly 800 years. Both eruptions were preceded by strong earthquakes.

Experts have stated that the Reykjanes peninsula is entering a volcanically active phase, which could mean regular eruptions over the coming decades – or even centuries. Both the Prime Minister and Transport Minister have stated this activity is a consideration when planning the construction of infrastructure such as airports.

Infrastructure currently not at risk

Last year’s Fagradalsfjall eruption was relatively small and did not cause any damage to roads or infrastructure. The same is true of the ongoing eruption so far. “As it stands, the eruption is in a relatively favourable location,” Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir stated. At the current rate of flow, it will take a significant amount of time for the lava to fill Meradalir valley and flow outward to other areas.

Report expected this autumn

Authorities have been discussing relocating Reykjavík City Airport for decades, and a task force had previously chosen Hvassahraun as the most viable location. This fall, preliminary results are expected from a working group that is evaluating the feasibility of Hvassahraun for a new airport. The group has mapped the impact of possible eruptions on roads, transport and energy infrastructure, and air transport.

Borgarnes and Selfoss previously considered for new airports

“I think that even if one is not a geologist or expert, it is quite clear from the way people have talked about it that we need to prepare for a new reality and that we are going to see earthquakes, or seismic activity or something like that, for a longer period of time [on Reykjanes], and that simply reduces the likelihood that development in this area is considered likely,” Transport Minister Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson told Vísir yesterday, shortly before magma broke through the earth’s surface on Reykjanes.

Asked whether Reykjavík City Airport would remain in its current location for the long term, the Transport Minister pointed out that, in any case, it would take 15-20 years to build an alternate airport at Hvassahraun or elsewhere. Borgarnes, West Iceland, and Selfoss, South Iceland, have both been discussed as potential locations for international airports. Sigurður Ingi stated those sites could be considered in the future.

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