Icelandair Unifies Domestic and International Brands

As of next week, Icelandair’s domestic and international flights will be merged under the Icelandair brand. The domestic brand Air Iceland Connect will be scrapped and the company’s domestic and international booking systems will be consolidated. Icelandair CEO Bogi Nils Bogason hopes the change will increase the number of passengers in domestic flights in Iceland.

“We hope that with strong marketing and connection to our route systems in Europe and North America, we will also be able to increase the number of tourists on domestic flights. It would strengthen our key destinations throughout the country and benefit our customers in increased frequency and better service,” Bogi stated. Once the change takes effect next Tuesday, March 16, domestic flights will be visible in the search engine on Icelandair’s website, and customers will be able to combine international and domestic flights in a single booking.

Icelandair will continue operating domestic flights to Akureyri, Egilsstaðir, Ísafjörður, and the Westman Islands. Air Iceland Connect and Norlandair had previously collaborated on flights to Bíldudalur and Gjögur from Reykjavík and flights to Grímsey, Vopnafjörður, and Þórshöfn from Akureyri. From March 16, these flights will only be available for booking through Norlandair’s website, though an announcement says the two companies will continue working closely together and services will remain unchanged.

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.

Air Iceland Connect to Expand Operations in Greenland

Air Iceland Connect (AIC) plans on expanding its flight network in Greenland once new airports are opened in the country, RÚV reports. Representatives of AIC expect significant growth within the Greenlandic tourism sector with the advent of the new and improved airports, which are expected to be operational in four to five years.

In an interview with the Greenlandic newspaper Sermitsiaq, Árni Gunnarsson, CEO of Air Iceland Connect, stated that Greenland was a key market for Air Iceland Connect. Árni did not provide further details regarding the company’s expansions of flight routes: such plans will not be finalised until 2022. “However, we do intend to expand our flight routes in Greenland once the new airports are operational.”

According to Árni, the airports will make travelling to Greenland easier, which will, in turn, serve to bolster tourism in the country. Asked whether AIC plans on offering domestic flights in Greenland, Árni was ambiguous: “We haven’t looked into it. It’s not part of our current plan. But as far as what could happen in four or five years’ time, I’m not willing to predict.”

Major, Yet Mobile, Renovations to Domestic Airport

Reykjavík domestic airport

The City of Reykjavík has given the go-ahead for major renovations to Reykjavík Domestic Airport, despite the fact that a majority of the council members support moving the airport out of the city centre entirely. RÚV reports that the city granted domestic airline Air Iceland Connect a permit to carry out major renovations at the airport earlier this fall. The airport’s location by the city centre has long been a bone of contention among politicians and city residents.

“There are significant improvements that we would want to make here,” stated Árni Gunnarsson, CEO of Air Iceland Connect. “Of course, the premises are a little overdue [for renovation] and although we have tried to maintain it as much as possible, it’s time for major improvements.”

The renovations include demolishing most of the existing terminal and build a new one in its place. While the federal transport plan allocates ISK 1 billion ($8m/€7.2m) for maintenance of the airport, Árni stated it was unclear what the overhaul would cost or when it would be carried out.

Sigurborg Ósk Haraldsdóttir, chairperson of the city’s Planning and Transportation Committee, expressed support for the renovations and stated she hopes the construction can begin in the coming weeks. “I think it’s time to improve access to the terminal and especially to improve access for everyone and access to the bus,” she stated.

Reykjavík domestic airport.
[/media-credit] Reykjavík Domestic Airport.

The domestic airport’s location has been hotly debated for decades: while some point out its central position is convenient for travellers and emergency transport to the nearby National Hospital, others argue the prime real estate would be better used for additional housing near the city centre. Sigurborg did not consider it contradictory to launch renovations when the majority of the city council opposes the airport remaining at its current location. “This is simply part of the agreement between the state and the city from 2013 that stipulated the closure of the small runway. It also provided for the addition of approach lights, to thin the forest on Öskjuhlíð and then to improve and enlarge the terminal,” she stated.

In 2013, design of the new terminal building was planned to allow for it to be taken apart and constructed elsewhere should the airport later be relocated. It appears that remains the case: Sigurborg confirmed that the land-use plan specifies the new buildings are temporary in nature.

Old Icelandic Fokker Skids Off Runway

A Fokker 50 passenger plane, which was formerly owned and operated by Air Iceland Connect (Flugfélag Íslands), was involved in an accident in Kenya on Friday.

The plane – which went by the name of Sigdís in Iceland – was one of four Fokkers operated by Air Iceland Connect. The plane was currently being operated by the Kenyan airline Silverstone Air Service.

The airplane was taking off from Wilson Airport in Nairobi and destined for the tourist town of Lamu via Mombasa City when it swerved off the runway. It passed through several trees before coming to a stop on a dirt road. At least two people were injured.

Proposal to Make Domestic Flights Part of Public Transportation

Air Iceland Connect

Domestic Icelandic flights should become part of Iceland’s public transportation system and be subsidised by the state, says Independence Party MP Vilhjálmur Árnason. RÚV reports that Vilhjálmur would like to see domestic flights receive government funding, the same way that municipal buses and ferries currently do.

The current state of the domestic flight industry was discussed by Alþingi’s Environment and Transport Committee, which met at Vilhjálmur’s request on Thursday morning. Iceland’s leading domestic airlines have been curtailing their operations, both reducing their flight frequency and selling aircraft. Representatives from Eagle Air, Air Iceland Connect, and Isavia all attended Thursday’s meeting.

Vilhjálmur argued that it is part of the government’s agenda to support public transportation. He voiced his support for what is being called ‘the Scottish solution,’ a reference to the Scottish government’s policy of subsidising “air travel to the remotest parts of the county” in order to “support and develop direct routes across Scotland to foster inward investment, stimulate local business and maintain a thriving tourism industry.”

If this system were to be put into place next year as has been proposed, the first step would be subsidising domestic air fares. “I think that it’s entirely clear that domestic flights can’t compete in this small market with the increasing number of passengers,” Vilhjálmur said. “It won’t be enough to just increase domestic flights.”

“We need to make guaranteed contributions in order to maintain some basic services,” he continued. “Create a public transportation system so that flights can maintain a set frequency and price stability. And then we’ve got to assist customers at the other end. We’ll do that via the Scottish solution.”

Air Iceland Connect to Sell One Third of Planes

Air Iceland Connect

The management of Iceland’s domestic airline Air Iceland Connect (Flugfélag Íslands) plans to sell two of their six airplanes due to a decline in passengers, RÚV reports. Since the beginning of this year, domestic air passengers have dropped by 10% compared to the same time last year. Árni Gunnarsson, the company’s CEO, believes domestic flights will eventually recover.

Just three years ago, Air Iceland Connect purchased three Bombardier Q400 planes, considerably larger than the Dutch Fokker planes that made up their fleet. The company later acquired a smaller Bombardier Q200 when it sold its Fokker planes. Their fleet eventually became six Bombardier planes, four of which were Q400 models.

Foreign tourists decrease more than locals

While the airline’s overall number of passengers has decreased by 10%, the drop among foreign passengers is more drastic, in the range of 30-40%. Besides potentially selling two airplanes, the company plans to take other measures to address the lower number of passengers. These include reducing the frequency of trips to Egilsstaðir and Ísafjörður this winter, and using smaller planes when possible. Árni states the company does not plan to resort to layoffs, though if they prove necessary they will not be drastic.

London to Reykjavík Flight Passengers Exposed to Measles

Passengers flying from London to Reykjavík on February 14 and on Air Iceland Connect from Reykjavík to Egilsstaðir may have been exposed to the measles during their flights, RÚV reports. Iceland’s Chief of Epidemiology has been in touch with all the passengers who were onboard both flights, and those passengers who show any symptoms of the measles are encouraged to seek medical attention, particularly those who have never been vaccinated against it.

The affected flights were Icelandair FI455 and Air Iceland Connected NY356. Icelandair spokesperson Ásdís Ýr Pétursdóttir has confirmed that one passenger, who was travelling from the Philippines, has been infected with the measles. This discovery then initiated a standard protocol in collaboration with the Chief of Epidemiology regarding passenger notification.

People who may have been exposed to the virus are advised to be on the lookout for fever, cold symptoms, red eyes, and/or a rash. The website for the Directorate of Health advises any passengers on board either of the effected flights to be on the lookout for symptoms until March 7. The announcement also states that individuals with the measles are only contagious after symptoms begin to manifest and are then contagious for 7 – 10 days afterwards. In general, measles symptoms manifest 10 – 14 days after initial infection, but can still do so after as long as three weeks.

People who have already been vaccinated against the measles need not be vaccinated again, but those who have not, may be vaccinated within six days of infection. Measles vaccinations are available at local health clinics.

This is not the only time that a passenger has travelled through Iceland with the measles virus of late. In June, a passenger flying from Ukraine to Toronto via Berlin and Reykjavík was also found to have had the virus, triggering a similar notification from the Chief of Epidemiology and a vaccination advisory.

The Chief of Epidemiology considers it unlikely that there will be an outbreak of the measles in Iceland, as 95% of the Icelandic public is vaccinated against the virus.