Reykjanes Eruptions Impact Airport Relocation Plans

Reykjavík City Airport flugvöllur

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.

Ministry Suspends Residential Development by City Airport

The Ministry of Infrastructure considers the new residential development by Reykjavík City Airport to threaten the operational safety of the airport and has ordered construction at the site to be postponed, RÚV reports. A letter from the Minister of Infrastructure sent to the Mayor of Reykjavík last week states that the planned development would significantly reduce the operational safety of the airport. The City of Reykjavík’s land-use plan assumes that the airport will be relocated – but the government’s transport policy states that it must continue to operate until another airport is built.

The letter states that it is “totally unacceptable for such projects to be undertaken without fully examining whether – and in what way, it is ensured that they do not have a negative effect on the operational safety of Reykjavík Airport. The Ministry cannot agree to the commencement of construction unless it is demonstrated that aviation and operational safety are not endangered.” The Ministry has appointed a working group of experts to research the issue. They are expected to submit their findings on October 1.

Einar Þorsteinsson, Acting Mayor of Reykjavík while Dagur B. Eggertsson is on leave, says the city cannot afford to lose the 690 new apartments that are in the first phase of construction of the new neighbourhood. He points out that the neighbourhood’s design is based on two previous reports concerning airport safety in the context of the construction.

“I hope it will be possible to build a beautiful neighbourhood there, which serves those groups who are in dire need of housing and at the same time ensure the operational safety of the airport,” Einar stated.

Read More: Relocating Reykjavík Airport

There have been tentative plans to relocate Reykjavík City Airport for decades. The City of Reykjavík’s 2010-2030 land-use plan assumes that the airport will be relocated – but the government’s 2019-2033 Transport Policy states that Reykjavík City Airport in Vatnsmýri must continue to serve domestic flights in a satisfactory manner until another equally good or better option exists. City authorities have maintained that the first phase of construction in Skerjafjörður would not affect the airport’s operation.

In Focus: Relocating Reykjavík Airport

Reykjavík City Airport flugvöllur

BackgroundThe dispute over the location of the Reykjavík City Airport is nearly as old as the airport itself. An agreement has now been made to move it from its current location in Vatnsmýri and build a residential development in its place – but a new location for the airport is yet to be determined.The airport […]

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