Svalbard: The World’s Northernmost Airport With Scheduled Flights

Far up north, nestled between the polar night and the midnight sun sits the single runway of Svalbard Airport, Longyear. Serving one of the world’s northernmost communities and a few mining settlements and research stations, it still sees near-daily traffic from Norway’s two largest airlines.

Svalbard Airport
Svalbard Airport Longyear sees perpetual daylight throughout the summer months. Photo: Alexey Reznichenko via Wikimedia Commons

History began during the war

Svalbard is a Norwegian archipelago also known as Spitsbergen, the name of the largest island. It is situated between Norway’s mainland and the North Pole. It is so far north that if you were to check to see how many hours of daylight Svalbard sees, the answer for January would be 0. Meanwhile, in May, June, and July, the sun never really sets at all.

The world’s northernmost settlement with a population of over 1,000 people is Longyearbyen (2,368 to be exact). It is served by Svalbard Airport, Longyear, (LYR) in Hotellneset, five kilometers to the northwest and operated by state-owned Avinor. The airport also provides connectivity for the Russian mining community of Barentsburg, with 455 inhabitants.

As with many other airfields, the first one close at Longyearbyen was constructed during World War II. From 1959, it was used for a few commercial flights but was only operational for a few months per year. Work on the current airport began in 1973, and it officially opened on September 2nd, two years later. The runway is 2,484 meters (8,146 feet) long. However, there are no taxiways.

SAS Norwegian Getty Arlanda
Both SAS and Norwegian serve the airport with near-daily flights (here, they are seen much further south while passing each other at Stockholm Arlanda). Photo: Getty Images

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Increasing traffic

The airport saw a steady rise in passenger numbers over the past decades, peaking at just above 180,000 per year in 2019 before coming to an unsurprising abrupt halt in 2020. Figures are slowly rising again, but it will take some time to recoup what was lost.

Two commercial airlines operate scheduled services to LYR. Norwegian Air and SAS Scandinavian Airlines operate flights via Tromsø Airport to Oslo Gardemoen. The budget carrier currently operates five flights per week with one of its 737-800s.

At the moment, SAS also flies five times weekly but is scheduled to increase to a pre-pandemic six-per-week frequency again from mid-February. The airline operates either a 737-800 or an A320neo on the route. SAS also takes care of ground handling through SAS Ground Services.

Charter operator Luftransport flies research and mining personnel to the privately run airport at Ny-Ålesund on Dornier 228 aircraft. Photo: Getty Images

Mining and research

A charter carrier called Luftransport has a base at the airport. From there, it operates two Dornier 228 aircraft on behalf of Norwegian government enterprise Kings Bay to Svea Airport, transporting researchers and coal mine personnel. It also flies aerial surveillance missions for the Norwegian Coast Guard. Russian mining company Arktikugol also operates the airport transporting staff.

During Soviet times, Aeroflot briefly operated a service to LYR. Meanwhile, in August 1996, Vnukovo Airlines flight 2801, operated by a Tupolev Tu-154M, crashed into a mountain close to the airport, killing all 141 people on board.

Have you ever flown to Svalbard or know someone who has? What is the furthest north you have ever been? What was it like? Leave a comment below and share your experience with the community and us.