In a country with no roads linking towns and villages, air transport is the only alternative to long journeys by dog-sled or boat.

The country's flag carrier, Greenlandair, provides the means of getting from one settlement to another, although its high fares - up to $600 for a 1h flight on a de Havilland Dash 7 - means air travel is almost exclusively the preserve of business people and professionals.

In the past few years, the country has revolutionised its air-transport infrastructure by building six regional airports on its west coast (where virtually all 55,000 Greenlanders live). They have 800m (2,600ft) runways, which are capable of handling short take-off and landing Dash 7s. Previously, these settlements were mainly served by helicopter, although with a limit of a 1.5t payload, and Greenland's temperamental coastal weather meant helicopters were frequently unable to take off or land.

Building each airport cost an average of $20 million, and many were huge civil engineering projects. Most coastal Greenland villages are located on inlets at the foot of mountains, and in some cases the only way to create a runway was to blast off an entire peak. "Maniitsoq was one of the biggest explosions ever, and at Upernavik it was such a nice mountain," says Jesper Juhl, director of Greenland's airport authority.

"But creating these airports was so important for us. Now people can be reasonably sure of getting to their destination that day, not a week later," he adds.

As a result, Greenland has a network of 13 airports, including one at the capital, Nuuk, built in 1979, and one which is attached to the single remaining US air base at Thule.

The country is now fully connected to the world. Aside from SAS's and Greenlandair's services to Copenhagen from Kangerlussuaq (and, in Greenlandair's case, Narsarsuaq), Air Iceland flies weekly Fokker 50 services to Constable Point and Kulusuk on the remote east coast.

However, Canadian operator First Air withdrew a service from Ottawa and Iqaluit in northern Canada in October.

Source: Flight International