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Staying the Faroese course

As the Faroe Islands’ national carrier Atlantic Airways has just celebrated the 35-year anniversary of its founding, the airline remains by far the leading player in the air traffic market related to the Northeast Atlantic archipelago. Signs of potential turbulence, however, can be spotted on the horizon in the form of growing competition especially during the summer season on key routes between Vagar and destinations in Denmark, Norway and Iceland.

“We’re fine with competition and very much used to it,” Atlantic Airways CEO Jóhanna á Bergi noted. “Indeed this airline was started on the premise of providing a much-needed alternative to the then incumbent carrier. It was also a question of national pride for the Faroe Islands to establish its own airline and thereby to secure a reliable air bridge between this country and the rest of the world. So tough competition was the name of the game from the get go.” 

“Today we’re faced with a new situation that is somewhat different in that more airlines than ever before have entered the Faroese space to offer flights to and from here,” Ms. á Bergi said. 

“More choice for air passengers is something we welcome, and yet at the same time, on our part, one may say we’re continuously being pushed to recalibrate our mix of destinations and, not least, to optimize all aspects of our operations.”

Based out of Vagar Airport, Atlantic Airways offers direct flights to and from twelve destinations, mostly in Europe but also, as of this summer, in North America, where New York Stewart is the latest addition to the route network. Indirect flights are offered to some 40 additional European destinations.

As an indirectly government-held airline, Atlantic Airways has a remit to serve the critical in- and outbound overseas transport needs of the people of the Faroe Islands as well as to establish a Faroese aviation industry. At the same time, structured as a limited company operating under normal business law, the airline is run on a fully commercial basis. 

“Our ability to survive and thrive is subject to market conditions like that of any other airline,” Ms. á Bergi added. “In some ways we’re more restricted due to the small size of our home market base and with regard to our special legal requirements to serve the Faroese society as opposed to merely making a profit.”

High flight regularity

As for the Faroe Islands, dealing with tricky and sometimes extreme weather conditions is something that goes with the territory. Add to that a relatively short runway at Vagar, surrounded by tall cliffs and every so often engulfed in fog to reduce visibility down to near zero. To meet this combination of challenges, Atlantic Airways a few years ago decided to become the first European carrier to use RNP (Required Navigation Performance) AR 0.1, a satellite-based technology that enables aircraft to operate in areas of high turbulence, increasing flight regularity and by extension saving time and fuel while at the same time minimizing emissions. Atlantic Airways implemented the technology much in tandem with Vagar Airport’s major upgrade of its facilities and equipment, resulting in significantly increased flight regularity at the airport, allowing Atlantic Airways planes to land there almost regardless of low visibility or bad weather conditions.

“This new technology has indeed made our operational regularity very good, meaning we’re able to land safely even in weather conditions that would earlier have prevented our planes from landing here,” the CEO said.

Atlantic’s fleet of fixed-wing aircraft includes two Airbus 320neo built in 2020 and one Airbus 320-214 built in 2014; its rotary-wing fleet consists of two Leonardo AW139 helicopters built in 2015, specially equipped for Faroese conditions with regard to domestic passenger and freight transport plus search and rescue missions.

The new Airbus 320neo (New Engine Option) planes reportedly consume up to about one-fifth less fuel compared to earlier versions of the A-320. 

“All our aircraft have HEPA [High Efficiency Particulate Air] filters to dramatically reduce the spread of airborne particles,” Ms. á Bergi added. 

“The filter captures up to 99.99 percent of all microbes such as virus and bacteria, and the air inside the plane is renewed every 2-3 minutes. The air is pumped from the ceiling into the cabin and sucked out from underneath the seats at high speed.”

Founded in 1987, Atlantic Airways today has a staff of about 30 pilots, 50 flight attendants and 25 air mechanics, most of them Faroese.

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