Blog: A cool visit to the Lofoten Islands

By Bram du Saar

It’s summer in mainland Europe, and during this heat wave typical things happen. Office buildings empty completely before three o’clock in the afternoon. With red skies at morning, according to Matthew 16:2, sailors start taking that as a warning. And I … I begin longing for a cooler area. Like above the artic circle, and the Lofoten Islands in the north of Norway in particular. I visited these Islands several moons ago, and enjoyed a wonderful temperature.

Lofoten Islands

The Lofoten Islands stretch out into the sea like a wall of granite to the south-west. It gives you the impression that they to hold the deepwater Vestfjord in place at Norway’s mainland coast. The Lofoten Island themselves consists of lofty mountains, sheltered coves, long stretches of seashore, large areas of virgin countryside, small picturesque harbor towns and magnificent views.
The town of Svolvaer is the regional centre of administration. It has about 4,120 inhabitants. Beside many attractions like the Ice Bar, a pub situated in a big refrigerator where the bar is made of ice as are the glasses and sculptors, the city also facilitates Svolvaer Airport, Helle (ENSH/SVJ).

The Airports environment

Helle is one of six airports on the Lofoten Islands. Other airports are Rost, Vaeroy (a heliport), Leknes, Stokmarknes and Andoya.
Helle Airport is situated 4km to the north-east of Svolvaer, at the edge of Storskjeringen bay. Because the runway has a north-south configuration (01/19), no air traffic to and from the airport passes over the urban areas of the town. The Norwegians, environment-minded as they are, have even publicized the noise contours of 2005 of the airport on the internet at (Press “Oppdater Kart” at the top of the screen), to underline this fact.

Svolvaer Airport, Helle is owned and operated by Avinor, a state owned limited company. It was established on 1 January 2003 following its conversion from a government corporation, the Norwegian Air Traffic and Airport Management. The Norwegian Ministry of Transport and Communications is Avinor’s owner, and the Minister of Transport and Communications is the company’s general assembly. Avinor

owns and operates 45 other airports in Norway, including Oslo’s International Airport Gardermoen, which is a fully owned subsidiary. Avinor is also the Air Navigation Service provider in Norway, responsible for Air Traffic Control Services, including control centres, control towers and Communication Navigation and Surveillance.
Avinor is financed by its users. Around two-thirds of Avinor’s revenues come from the sales of services to airlines, while one-third are attributable to commercial activity at the airports. The Norwegian state purchases services from Avinor at Norway’s regional airports (NOK 35 million in 2005). Avinor’s headquarters, corporate staff and divisional management are situated in Oslo.

Airport facilities
Helle is in many ways a small airport. The asphalt runway is only 857meters long and a regular 30meters wide. This includes the turning pads on either side of the runway. There are no taxiways, only a (parking) apron in front of the terminal building at the north side of the airport.

The control tower is situated near the middle of the runway. The wooden-build terminal is small and, therefore “very” easy to navigate. However, comfort leaves to be desired. Somewhat worn-out and presumably IKEA chairs dominate the waiting area (Amrita … you would really love this place!). There are two check-in desks and a baggage scanner. Both are primarily in use for Wideroe, the airports main visiting commercial carrier (see below). More to the back of the terminal, there are some little offices; one is for Wideroe’s station manager. The typical airport restaurant, bank-, post- and tourist office are located in Svolvaer.
The airport’s service hours are on weekdays from 05.15am to 10.00pm, but air traffic service is provided from 03.45am to 08.20pm. The airport has fuelling and de-icing facilities, but no other sorts of handling. There is no hanger space available for visiting aircraft and also no repair facilities. Snow removal equipment is available and the rescue equipment for fire fighting is certified for CAT 4.

Flying into Svolvaer
Helle can receive VFR and IFR flights, but flying into the airport is no Sunday ride. Special requirements are in place for operators performing commercial transportation. The airports manuals states that the operator “shall stipulate special crew qualification requirements” and landing and departing aircraft have to meet Short Take-Off and Landing (STOL) requirements, because of the short runway.

Operators without steep approach approval must notify the airport as to how the flight crew shall use the visual aids, being the visual approach guidance system and runway markings.
Due to insufficient back-up power on runway edge, Helle will be closed when visibility is less than 600meters during day time or 400meter at night. And in weather conditions where holding position markings are no longer visible, or have reduced effect there will only be allowed one movement on the maneuvering area at a time.
Because of the mountains surrounding the airport wind shear is an issue to reckon with. Wind shear/eddies (red.: two winds moving in opposite directions ‘rub’ or mix together) may occur on short final to runway 19 when the geostrophical wind (SW-NW) is above 25 knots.

Closing down?
Because of these limitations, the airport has been under thread of closure. End 2001 the Norwegian Air Traffic and Airport Management Authority has said that the problem at the Svolvaer airport is the environment. Svolvaer reportedly has enough passengers but it is not possible to change the physical limitations. The airport operates well enough at the moment, but if higher demands on safety are introduced, there are several problems, reported Lofotsposten, a regional Norwegian newspaper. The runway is shorter than optimal, there are restricted development options and there are also operational limitations.
Luckily, a month later the Norwegian Civil Aviation Authority decided not to close the Svolvaer airport, even though the safety zone on the runway is rather short. The airport was re-approved.

As said earlier, Wideroe is the main visiting

commercial carrier. Wideroe’s Flyveselskap ASA, as it’s called officially, is the largest regional airline in the Nordic countries, carrying more than 1.5 million passengers per year. The airline operates 30 Dash 8 aircraft (series 100, Q300 and Q400 [red.: the ‘Q’ stands for Quite]) to 42 destinations in Norway and 7 destinations abroad (ranging from Stockholm to Aberdeen). The company has over 1300 employees.
The public service obligation services (PSO) on the STOL network account for approximately half of Wideroe’s operations. Also Svolvaer is a PSO destination. From Svolvaer the airline operates daily flights to Leknes on the Lofoten Islands and Bodo on Norway’s mainland, being a flight of respectively 20 and 30 minutes. So, no complementary hot breakfasts, lunches or diners are served, only cold drinks!

I found a visit to the Lofoten Islands a great experience. Especially in summertime when the climate is relatively cool, there’s a fresh sea breeze and the sun shines for more than 21 hours per day. So, there’s no hurry to see the things you want to see on the Islands (and believe me, your eyes won’t complain for 1 sec.). Therefore, a quick visit to one of the airports literarily won’t take up much time and can be a nice change of scenic landscape. And with regard to the weather I’m longing for: as John Ruskin (an English writer and critic of art, architecture, and society, 1819-1900) once said: “Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, so there only different kinds of good weather.”

– A.J. du Saar and Wideroe (aircraft photo)
– Due to limitations and/or uniformity of the used character set, it was not possible to use all characters in the Norwegian language.

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