Flightseeing company Atlantsflug has recently launched a new construction project in proximity of Skaftafell, a popular preservation area in Vatnajökull National Park, to erect a spacious service building and a terminal that will provide a stable base for the company’s tours.
Improving the experience
Atlantsflug has been flying around Vatnajökull for more than two decades. Around 20 km away from Skaftafell, visitors board small planes right at the runway before flying over one of the most breathtaking natural wonders of Iceland.
To improve the experience, however, Atlantsflug has begun the construction of a terminal right next to the runway, to create a bridge between Reykjavík and Skaftafell that will make trips south a little more comfortable.
In addition, Atlantsflug’s manager and founder Jón Grétar Sigurðsson plans to discard the current flying schedule in favour of a permanent one by offering transfer flights and tours all year round. The service building will provide constant assistance to the visitors, who will have a place to sit and roam during bad weather, as well as improved technical aid to all their planes. “Having a terminal also means we finally have a place to store the planes right at Skaftafell,” Jón Grétar adds.
Take a load off, Annie
Besides the personal benefits that Atlantsflug might derive from the airport, the company also expects to decrease the traffic of coaches and cars on Route 1 by connecting Reykjavík and Skaftafell by plane.
The news of Atlantsflug’s construction plans came just one day after authorities at Skaftafell had decided to encourage the closure of two companies’ service centres to attenuate the impact of cars and traffic around the park. The presence of these service centres and the consequent amount of cars driving around the near parking lot had become unsustainable for the environment.
The prospect of tourists reaching the park by other means than cars could literally take some weight off the area. However, park authorities are still speculating. “We haven’t had the time or information to investigate the impact of an airport around Skaftafell so it’s still unclear whether the air traffic will reduce the number of private cars,” park ranger Regína Hreinsdóttir explains.
All the what-ifs
According to Regína, the amount of travellers who visited Skaftafell last year was around 620,000—double the population of Iceland. Whether the airport will mitigate the impact of car traffic or increase the amount of tourists in the area has yet to be investigated.
Authorities at Vatnajökull National Park will need to be on the lookout for the airport’s possible dangerous impact on the local environment. While car pollution might decrease, levels of air pollution caused by plane fuel might make things worse. “Increased air traffic will also probably be accompanied by more noise pollution, in certain circumstances,” Regína explains.
Atlantsflug might have made all the provisions necessary to minimize the impact of the construction plans on the environment, but all the possible ramifications of this decision have yet to emerge. Only time will tell.