Did Collapse Of WOW Air Lead To Reinstatement Of Iceland Cross Wind Tests?

The Icelandic airports’ authority Isavia has reinstated limited crosswind testing at Keflavik airport. Some think its decision to repeal the 2013 ban was taken in response to the collapse of Iceland’s WOW Air.

WOW airliner on runway
Did WOW have a part to play in the lifting of the crosswind test ban? Photo: WOW Air

Guy Norris for Air Transport World reports that the authority this week announced its intention to reopen Keflavik International Airport for limited crosswind flight testing of aircraft undergoing certification. Isavia operates all of Iceland’s airports and some air navigation facilities in the north-eastern Atlantic.

The lifting of the ban is welcomed by Airbus and Boeing. The two aerospace giants have badgered state-owned Isavia to lift the ban since it was imposed in 2013. In the meantime, Boeing has been forced to carry out its crosswind tests at various USAF bases.

Industry insiders speculate that Iceland’s Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir rescinded the ban in the wake of the financial avalanche caused by the loss of WOW Air earlier this year.

Crosswind testing at Keflavik

Reykjavík–Keflavík is famed for its near-relentless winter winds of 35 knots or more. Two perpendicular runways allow test pilots to land with a choice of wind direction.

The weather and facilities make Keflavik an ideal location for aircraft manufacturers’ crosswind testing.

Boeing plane lands during test
Boeing forced to take crosswind tests back to the US. Photo: Boeing

The re-opening of the test facility will prove vital for Iceland, not just financially. Crosswind test programs see an influx of engineers, scientists, pilots and maintenance staff converging on Iceland from all over the world. As a consequence, one round of flight tests yields a host of multilateral opportunities.

For a nation that has been whacked by the demise of one of their most profitable LCCs, the move makes sense.

Ban following accident

Despite the near constant usage of the test center by Airbus, Boeing and others since 2000 Keflavik crosswind tests were banned following the 2013 Sukhoi SSJ100 crash. The three year old aircraft came down on its ninth test run due to “flight fatigue”, according to aviation-safety.net.

The SSJ came to a halt 163 meters beyond the threshold of runway. The five crew members on board survived.

Although Airbus was allowed to test its A350-900 in 2014 and 2015, the ban was upheld from then on while Keflavik was upgraded. The airport underwent wide-ranging expansion works due to an increase in air traffic. It was fast turning into a transatlantic hub for LCCs.

Despite numerous industry requests since, the Icelandic government upheld their ban citing concerns about the risk posed to nearby conurbations. However, in early 2018 Isavia agreed that COMAC could do a one-off test of its ARJ21. The regional jet successfully completed its crosswind testing.

Video of the day:

COMAC ARJ21 on wet apron
COMAC granted one-off crosswind tests in 2018 by Isavia. Photo: COMAC

Ban lifted 2019

According to Guy Norris, Isavia made its latest decision to repeal the ban after it “sought advice from an unidentified test pilot school”. The recommendations that came forthwith caused Isavia to “adopt new rules for any company wishing to test aircraft,” he writes.

Applicants are now required to complete and sign a detailed risk assessment which includes assurances that the tests “will not pose a threat to nearby urban areas or impact the safety of the airport.” Furthermore, test flights are permitted only between October and March and when traffic at the Icelandic hub is ebbing.

Having laid out their new provisos, Isavia has already granted test permissions for six aircraft. Although types have not been specified it is believed these include the B777-8/9, B737-10 and Airbus’s slow-burning A330-800.

WOW Air

The announcement of the lifting of the ban comes just over two months after Iceland’s WOW Air folded. That timing is enough to convince some industry insiders that the demise of WOW might have played a part in the Government’s recent decision.

WOW boss stands in front of plane
Skuli Morgensen’s transatlantic vision was fatally flawed. Photo: WOW Air

WOW Air was founded in 2011. It operated services between Iceland, Europe, Asia, and North America. At its peak it championed the LCC trans-Atlantic flight.

But WOW soon became unable to make a profit at the same time as maintain its budget appeal. The carrier ceased operations on the 28th March 2019 after its planes were repossessed by creditors.

In response to the airline’s collapse the Central Bank of Iceland warned of troubled times ahead. According to Reuters a spokesman for the bank presaged that the loss of the LCC would “dent Iceland’s economic growth this year and cause some losses in the banking system.

The shocks that have struck recently are highly unlikely under current conditions to jeopardize the stability of the financial system.”

Whether WOW was a catalyst or not, the overturning of the ban is set to return much-needed international interest to the island. It may even buck the nation’s current credit negative trend.

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