The community on Svalbard, halfway between Norway and the North Pole, depends on air transport for many of the essentials in life. The remote island has a population of about 2,500, centred on the settlement at Longyear, which is where Svalbard airport is located.
Morten Ulsnes, airport manager at Svalbard, explains the extent to which air travel is a lifeline for his fellow citizens. “Most of our preserved food comes by boat but there are no passenger boats at all, so all passenger traffic has to come by plane, as well as some of our fresh food, all of our mail and other essentials. We do have a small hospital here, but for anything that requires more complex treatment the ambulance planes are a life saver,” he says.
Visiting professors come to Svalbard by plane to complement the island’s basic education facilities. The airport also plays host to search and rescue helicopters and provides swift turnaround facilities for charter aircraft. Traffic can vary from about eight scheduled flights per week provided by SAS and Norwegian in January / February to double that in August – plus a commensurate increase in charter flights, which include four to eight commuter flights per day serving local mines for which there is no road access.
Without Svalbard Airport, life on the island would be nearly impossible – and some of the services that depend on it, such as search and rescue – far less effective.