Air Greenland seeks to fly from BWI


For those tired of summer heat, the Arctic may soon be just a few hours away.

Greenland's national airline, Air Greenland A.S., has applied to the U.S. government for clearance to fly between the globe's icy northern reaches and Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. If approved, it would be the first direct flight between the countries.

To get to Greenland now, U.S. travelers have to connect through Denmark, Iceland or Canada, according to travel agents. And that is hampering the country's effort to lure some of the same adventurous - and well-outfitted - American tourists who found Iceland years ago and are looking for the next unbeaten path.

On its Web site, Greenland's tourism board promotes such activities as dog sledding and ice climbing.

"The U.S. enjoys an increasing closer relationship with Greenland," read the airline's June application to the U.S. Department of Transportation for a permit to fly to Baltimore and possibly other cities. "It would open new markets to citizens of the U.S. and Greenland and serve the public interest."

Air Greenland wants to offer two round-trip flights a week from BWI on a Boeing 757 from May to August, beginning in May 2007, and once a week if service continues in the fall. The flight would land in Kangerlussuaq on the country's western border. Travelers could hike, drive, fly or mountain bike to a nearby ice cap and stay overnight - "if you bring a tent," according to the tourist board.

BWI has built its modest international service mainly on such niche carriers; Icelandair, for example, has offered daily service since 1990. A spokesman for the U.S. Transportation Department couldn't say yesterday when a decision on Air Greenland's application to fly from BWI would be made.

If approved, U.S. travelers could be dog sledding in the springtime and skiing on glaciers in the summer. Generally, visitors have to fly between towns because there are no roads, although some people sail when sea ice permits - something government scientists say is becoming more frequent as global warming melts the world's ice sheets. Yesterday's afternoon temperature was 59 degrees Fahrenheit in Kangerlussuaq.

Generally, Greenland is too cold to be attractive for a visit much of the year. With more than 80 percent of it covered in ice, winter temperatures can go below minus 40 degrees in parts of the country. Lore, although disputed, has it that icier Greenland and greener Iceland switched names at one time to fool invaders.

Regardless, travel agents say Greenland is becoming the next new thing. About 16,000 people annually visit the country, granted self-government in 1979 by Denmark. About 55,000 people live there.

Kathleen Kearney, a travel agent for Katlin Travel Group in Lexington, Mass., has been arranging trips there for about six years. It's growing in popularity among "seasoned travelers" who like to hike, camp and sail.

She gets about two or three calls a month in season from interested people, up from one or two a few years ago. She predicted the twice-a-week flight from BWI would be full with travelers from all over the United States.

"It's hard sometimes to get there now because there isn't a lot of capacity for passengers. There's more room for cargo," she said. "Plus, you have the added expense and time to fly to Europe or Canada first. I think an overnight stay is still required in Canada. Greenland would do nothing but benefit from this flight."

The state of Maryland, which owns BWI, filed a document in support of the airline with the Transportation Department.

"This would be a good service to offer," Jonathan Dean, an airport spokesman, said yesterday. "There is a developing travel market between the United States and Greenland for adventure tourism and eco-tourism. This would make it much more efficient for travelers from the U.S."

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