Keeping Geese Away from Runway a Challenging Job

The domestic airport in Egilsstaðir, northeast Iceland, receives passengers from all over the country, and the world, but some are more welcome than others. Geese are a seasonal presence at the airport, RÚV reports, and as they pose a risk to planes, people, and themselves, the task of shooing them away is an important one.

Honking back

Geese flock to this area by the thousands each spring, and have likely done so for centuries before this airport was ever here. However, flights need to depart from the airport in the morning, and before they can, employees of the airport move up and down the runway, scaring geese away with the honking of horns.

To the east of the runway is a field, where geese will often assemble to feed. Walking dogs in this area is banned, as they might scare the geese at an inopportune moment, i.e., the take-off or landing of a plane.

Many tools in the toolbox

Honking horns is not the only weapon in the airport’s arsenal against the geese. Laser pointers also keep the geese at bay, effectively enough, as well as high-pitched whistles that geese find unpleasant and keep them at bay.

But there is also the concern about younglings, as geese are prone to build their nests near the runway. For this, fences are used, or sometimes the eggs themselves are moved.

Nonetheless, geese and airplanes alike use very similar flight paths in this part of Iceland, and others. It is likely that keeping geese away from their larger, mechanical cousins will be an ongoing job for as long as airplanes exist in Iceland.

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No Decision on Strikes in Latest Air Traffic Controllers’ Talks

Keflavík Airport

Negotiations between air traffic controllers and Isavia failed to produce an agreement earlier today, RÚV reports. The parties will reconvene at the State Mediator’s office on Friday, with no further strike actions currently planned by air traffic controllers.

Negotiations progressed slowly

A negotiation meeting that took place earlier today between air traffic controllers and the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise, representing Isavia (the company that operates all public airports in Iceland), did not yield results.

The disputing parties have decided to meet again at the office of the State Mediator on Friday. Arnar Hjálmsson, Chairman of the Air Traffic Controllers Association, told RÚV today that no decisions had been made among air traffic controllers regarding further strike action. 

As previously reported on IR, air traffic controllers previously ceased work for four hours in strike actions over three days before Christmas but postponed the fourth due to the volcanic eruption on the Reykjanes Peninsula. The collective agreement of air traffic controllers expired on October 1 and negotiations have progressed very slowly.

Air Traffic Controllers Continue Strike Actions

Keflavík airport Icelandair

The air traffic controllers of Iceland were on strike today for the third time since last week. Their next strike is scheduled for Wednesday morning. Air traffic controllers’ collective agreement negotiations with the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA) are at a deadlock. Icelandair’s CEO says continued strikes would increase the likelihood of flight cancellations over the holidays. Iceland’s Parliament may be preparing to step in with legislation to break the strike, according to mbl.is.

Parliament may legislate to break strike

According to mbl.is, the Infrastructure Ministry is preparing a bill to break the strikes, if negotiations remain at a standstill. Minister of Infrastructure Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson did not wish to confirm this, however, when contacted by the outlet. Sigurður Ingi did refer to the responsibility held by the negotiating parties “right before Christmas, following a natural disaster that has cost this society a considerable amount.”

Two unions, the State Flight Staff Association (Félag flugmálastarfsmanna ríkisins) and the Dock Workers Association (Félag hafnarverkamanna), have issued statements in support of Iceland’s air traffic controllers and their right to strike. They underline the right to strike as necessary toward maintaining a just balance of power between workers and employers.

No negotiation meetings scheduled

The collective agreement of air traffic controllers expired on October 1 and negotiations with the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA) have gone very slowly. This is the third air traffic controller strike in Iceland in five years. Arnar Hjálmsson, president of the Air Traffic Controller Association asserts that the salaries of Iceland’s 152 air traffic controllers have lagged compared to other professions in the industry in recent years.

The next strike is scheduled for 4:00 AM-10:00 AM on Wednesday morning. Meanwhile, no meetings are on the calendar between the negotiating parties.

 

Icelandic Tourist Board Report: Second-Busiest Summer on Record

tourists on perlan

A recent report by the Icelandic Tourist Board shows summer 2023 to have been another record year for travel to Iceland.

Approximately 790,000 foreign tourists arrived in the country through Keflavik Airport last summer, about a quarter more than the summer of 2022, making it the second-busiest travel summer since measurements began.

Americans most numerous

Americans were by far the most numerous group of travellers. With around 300,000 in total, they accounted for almost two out of every five tourists.

Other top nations include Germany (60,000 travellers; 7.7% total visits), Poland (52,000 travellers; 6.6% total visits), France (40,000 travellers; 5.1% total visits), and the UK (35,000 travellers; 4.4% total visits).

Of these travellers, the vast majority, about 95% of tourists, were on vacation in Iceland this summer. The remaining 5% were travelling to visit friends and family, on a business trip, or had other reasons for travel.

Capital region most popular

The Reykjavík area continues to be by far the most popular destination among foreign tourists. 90% of travellers visited the Reykjavík area during their travels, due to its proximity to Keflavík International Airport and the services offered.

The South Coast was the second most popular destination, with 79% of travellers visiting. The South Coast was followed by the Reykjanes Peninsula (66%), West Iceland and the Snæfellsnes Peninsula (46%), North Iceland (32%), and East Iceland (28%). The Westfjords were the least popular destination, with only 13% of foreign travellers visiting this remote region of Iceland.

Stable pattern in overnight stays

The report noted that at an average of 8.6 nights, the number of overnight stays has remained the same as in 2022. The trend, however, has been towards increasingly longer stays in Iceland, as an average of 7.5 nights was recorded in 2018, and an average of 7.8 nights in 2019. The report notes that travellers seem to prefer staying in destinations for longer after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Americans were found to spend comparatively less time in Iceland than others, at an average of 6.9 nights. Of the top ten nationalities, German and French travellers had the longest stays, averaging 10.9 nights. Following them were Spanish, Italian, and Dutch tourists with stays ranging from 8.8 to 9.5 nights.

New records

Hotel nights in registered accommodations numbered about 4.3 million for the summer of 2023, an all-time record. This represents an 8.6% increase in hotel nights compared to the summer of 2022. Approximately two out of every five nights were spent in hotels, about 14% in guesthouses, and almost half (46.3%) in other types of accommodations.

The increase in stays in registered accommodations is largely attributable to the increasing preference for longer stays.

Read the full report here (in Icelandic).

Icelandair Resumes Service Between Keflavík and Akureyri in Trial

icelandair akureyri keflavík

Icelandair has resumed service between Akureyri and Keflavík International Airport.

The connection was last offered in 2019, and since then, Akureyri residents travelling internationally have needed to first fly to the Reykjavík airport, and then travel to Keflavík International Airport.

Limited time offer

According to an Icelandair press release, the first passengers on Icelandair’s international connection from Akureyri to Keflavik Airport were treated to a light coffee service at Akureyri Airport this morning. The international connection will be available from October 15 to November 30, 2023. During this period, flights will operate three times a week from Akureyri to Keflavik, departing at 5:50 AM on Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, and three times a week from Keflavik to Akureyri on Wednesdays at 9:20 PM, and Fridays and Sundays at 5:15 PM.

The decision was made to schedule the flight early, as accommodation options in North Iceland are limited during the summer. Icelandair has previously stated that it hopes to strengthen and develop the international connection from Akureyri.

The route is currently scheduled as a trial, though service may be expanded in the future if the connection proves popular.

As this flight is an international connection, security screening will be conducted at Akureyri Airport, and it can only be booked in conjunction with an Icelandair international flight.

Looking ahead

Tómas Ingason, Director of Revenue, Service, and Marketing at Icelandair stated to the press:  “The international connection from Akureyri has received a very positive reception right from the start, as it significantly shortens travel time for Northerners to Icelandair’s European destinations. With this connection, we also aim to promote better distribution of travellers around the country and stimulate increased demand for trips to Akureyri, especially during the winter. It’s exciting to announce that those who took the first flight from Akureyri this morning are on their way to various destinations across Europe, including Berlin, Brussels, Frankfurt, Tenerife, Dublin, London, Copenhagen, and Helsinki.”

 

 

Flights Cancelled, Passengers Unable to Disembark Due to High Winds

Gale-force winds and heavy snowshowers caused considerable disruptions for travellers on Sunday, Mbl.is and RÚV report. While most international flights were cancelled or delayed before they departed, however, eight flights from North America were already en route to Keflavík when the weather took a turn for the worst. The unfortunate passengers on seven of these flights were stuck in their planes for six or more hours, as it was too windy to use jet bridges for disembarkation.

On Sunday, the Met Office issued an orange warning for the west and southwest of Iceland, which experienced winds of 18-28 m/s [40-62 mph]; a yellow warning was issued for the rest of the country, where winds gusted at an ever-so-slightly calmer 18-25 m/s [40-55 mph].

Search and Rescue teams used a bus and another large vehicle to shelter an external stairway from the wind. Image via Lögreglan á Suðurnesjum, FB

Eight hundred passengers stranded in planes on runway

Eight airplanes transporting close to 800 passengers from North America landed at Keflavík on Sunday morning around 6:00 am. One of these planes, arriving from Newark, New Jersey, was able to disembark without issue. The other seven were not so lucky. The wind picked up and became too strong to allow for the use of jet bridges. Search and Rescue teams were called in to assist with the disembarking process.

As of 1:00 pm, only one plane’s passengers had been able to exit their aircraft. Search and Rescue teams managed to successfully evacuate the flight, which had flown in from Miami, Florida, by rolling an external stairway up to the pane, sheltering it from the wind with large vehicles, and rigging up a rope system to help passengers keep their balance as they went out into the frosty gusts.

At time of writing, Search and Rescue teams were still working diligently to evacuate the remaining airplanes, and do so as safely as possible.

Airlines Recovering from Storm Delays, Arranging for Stranded Passanger Transport

Keflavík airport Icelandair

Flights to and from Iceland seem to be back to normal following the storm. According to Isavia’s website, some of Icelandair’s arriving flights were cancelled or delayed but most departures have taken off despite delays. Iceland air and Play Air are making arrangements to get stranded passengers to their destinations in time for Christmas.

Icelandair released a statement late last night that they are working hard to get their passengers to their destination in time for Christmas. Yesterday, the airline had 17 departures to Tenerife, Las Palmas, Copenhagen, London and North America, as well as transporting passengers from Keflavík to Reykjavík and supplies to the depleted stores of the airport terminal. They claim that the outlook for today is good, even though some flight disruptions may occur. Prospective passengers are asked to pay close attention to flight information.

Play air also issued a statement yesterday, stating that hopefully flight disruptions will be over today. Play will be collecting the airline’s new passenger jet immediately instead of next spring as previously scheduled. This means that the airline will have seven planes of its own to transport stranded passengers, as well as rental planes.

The winter weather had various effects on airport services and yesterday, travellers were asked to refrain from arriving in private vehicles as the longterm-parking lots were covered in snow. Today, they’ve been reopened, but those who intend to park their cars at Leifsstöð are asked to pre-book parking online. According to an Isavia statement: “Our team worked into the night and others took over this morning to carry out cleaning work in all P areas and around the terminal. The task is huge due to the heavy snowfall and some cars are still covered in snow. We kindly ask all passengers to pre-book parking online.”

Hell’s Angels Expelled from Iceland

Twenty-two members of the Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang were deported from Iceland on Saturday morning. The Hell’s Angels are one of several motorcycle gangs that are gaining ground in Iceland and the expelled members have suspected ties to organized crime. Vísir reported first.

The individuals had apparently come to Iceland to attend a gathering in the capital area. Icelandic police have protocols in place to address the arrival of “people connected to motorcycle clubs” and were ready and waiting when 15 members of the Hell’s Angels landed at the airport from Germany. These individuals were detained and questioned while authorities determined whether they would be allowed to enter the country. No arrests were made at the airport, although seven of their fellow club members were stopped and arrested by police on the road to/from the airport on the same day. Those individuals had flown to Iceland from Sweden.

RÚV reports that the cases of five other Hell’s Angels members who arrived from Denmark are still under review, but it is assumed that they came to Iceland to attend the same gathering.

This is not the first time this year that members of international motorcycle clubs have been expelled from Iceland upon arrival. In February, a high-ranking member of the Bandidos motorcycle club in Sweden was deported; three members of the Finnish Bandidos club were deported in October 2021. Bandidos MC is another motorcycle with international chapters that is believed to have established a foothold in Iceland.

Icelandic to Take Precedence on Keflavík Airport Signage

Keflavík Airport

The board of directors at Isavia, the national airport and air navigation service provider of Iceland, has decided to renew the signage at Keflavík Airport so as to emphasise the Icelandic language; Isavia will foreground Icelandic on all instructional and informational signs at the airport.

The Icelandic Language Council

The Icelandic Language Council was established in 1964 and operates according to Article 6 of Law No. 61/2011 regarding the status of the Icelandic language and Icelandic sign language: “The role of the Icelandic Language Council shall be to provide public authorities with academically-informed advice on matters concerning the Icelandic language, and to make proposals to the Minister regarding language policy.”

The law also stipulates that the Council may “take the initiative to draw attention to both positive and negative aspects of the ways in which the Icelandic language is used in the public sphere.”

With a view to this provision of the law, the Icelandic Language Council has persistently drawn attention to the conspicuously anglicised signage at the Keflavík National Airport: “English is the primary language on almost all of the signs at the airport,” a journalist at RÚV writes, “with information in Icelandic playing a secondary role or none at all.”

Eiríkur Rögnvaldsson, Professor Emeritus at the University of Iceland, brought attention to the issue again after Icelandair announced that it would resume the custom of addressing passengers in Icelandic first, prior to reverting to other languages.

Isavia responded with reference to security concerns, but critics pushed back, noting that local languages were foregrounded in many international airports without such a thing being a cause of concern; Gaelic is foregrounded at Irish airports ahead of English.

Lilja Alfreðsdóttir intervenes

An article on Mbl.is notes that Lilja Alfreðsdóttir, Minister of Culture and Business Affairs, emphasised these concerns to the Board of Directors of Isavia, the national airport and air navigation service provider of Iceland. According to Mbl.is, Lilja had “commented on the marginalisation of the Icelandic language at the airport at the time before reemphasising her concerns following Icelandair’s decision.” Lilja reached out to former minister Kristján Þór Júlíusson, the newly-elected Chairman of the Board for Isavia, who then raised the issue at a board meeting (see below entry:

“Concerns have been raised, and comments made, in public, by, among other parties, the board of the Icelandic Language Council in 2016 and 2017, regarding the use of language on informational and instructional signs at the Keflavík Airport. Isavia’s board discussed these issues in 2018. Over the recent days, criticism has resurfaced. In light of this criticism, Isavia’s board hsa agreed upon the following:

‘Extensive renovations are currently underway at Keflavík Airport. Alongside the current alterations, Isavia’s board of directors has decided to devise a plan to renew the airport’s signage, in phases, in the near future. During this renewal, the principle of ensuring the foregrounding of the Icelandic language on instructional and informational signs will be followed.’”

US Citizens Account for a Third of All Airport Departures in September

Travellers Keflavik airport

One hundred seventy-seven thousand people departed from Keflavík international airport in September, new data from the Icelandic Tourist Board shows. This makes last month the fourth busiest September the airport has seen since the Tourist Board started keeping such records. Last month, departures at Leif Eiríksson International Airport were 76% of what they were at their peak in 2018.

US citizens accounted for a third of all departures

Most of September’s recorded departures can be attributed to ten nations, with Americans making up the largest proportion of travellers, or 30.1%. All told, 53,315 Americans departed from Keflavík last month. Americans have made up Iceland’s largest block of foreign visitors since 2013 and this year’s numbers are similar to those recorded in 2017.

Germany came in a distant second, with 15,965 departures (9%) in September, followed by 10,791 travellers (6%) from the UK, 8,538 travellers from Spain, and 8,345 from France (roughly 4.7% each). The top ten was then rounded out by Poland (7,639 departures; 4.3%), The Netherlands (7,267; 4.1%), Canada (7,003; 3.9%), Italy (5,887; 3.3%), and Denmark (5,439; 3%).

Over a million foreign tourists since the start of the year

As an increasing number of people return to international travel post-COVID, tourism in Iceland is clearly on the rebound. Since the start of the year, 1.3 million foreign travellers have departed from Iceland, compared to 445,000 departures between January and September of last year. Even so, this year’s numbers are about 277,000 departures short of what they were in 2019.

Icelanders travelling in record numbers

Roughly 60,000 Icelanders travelled abroad in September, making it locals’ most-travelled September ever. Since January, 441,000 Icelanders have departed from Keflavík, which is 95% of the total number of Icelanders who flew abroad during the same time period in 2017, 87% of the total who flew abroad between January and September 2018, and 94% of the same count in 2019.