Over 235 kilometers north from the Arctic Circle and only a few hours’ drive away from the Arctic Sea sits Ivalo Airport, the most Northern Airport in the European Union.
The airport was originally founded by the German military during World War II, but was completely destroyed during the German retreat from Lapland. So it wasn’t until 1955 that the airport finally opened for commercial flights.
Pure nature charms the tourists
Today, Ivalo Airport is open all year round and receives around a thousand flight a year.
In recent years, tourism to the Finnish Lapland has been on the rise, and Ivalo set a new record with 155,000 passengers in 2015.
The rough exoticism of Northern nature – dark, quiet and snowy – appeal especially to Asian tourists, but also to European travelers.
”Our key attractions are definitely nature, and of course Santa Claus around Christmas,” says Ivalo Airport Manager Jarmo Pyhäjärvi. “Tourists are fascinated by the Northern lights, but also the purity and quietude of the North are really appreciated nowadays.”
Finnair flies to Ivalo daily, and Norwegian also has regular flights to the airport. The newcomer in 2016 is Lufthansa, which is starting regular flights to Ivalo in December.
Dark but busy in the winter
Ivalo Airport is busiest around Christmas and the winter months, with direct charter flights from Central Europe and Great Britain bringing tourists to the region.
”Our high season starts around December first and lasts beyond Easter. Last December, for instance, we had about 150 planes flying in,” Pyhäjärvi says.
Ivalo’s location above the Arctic Circle also means that the airport sees both a months-long Polar night in the winter, and has the midnight sun shining through the nights in the summer.
”December to January the sun doesn’t rise above the horizon at all. You get used to the dark, but it’s a challenge for maintenance, as you get no help from the sun in keeping the runway clean of ice and snow,” Pyhäjärvi says.
Every winter, temperatures run below 40 degrees Celsius, but Pyhäjärvi says that the cold doesn’t pose a challenge for airport staff.
”We are used to frost and snow. Cold rain is much more challenging, as it can instantly freeze into ice on the runway, and requires more from our maintenance staff.”
Airport full of multitaskers
During high season Ivalo Airport has about a hundred people on staff. During the slower months, only a couple dozen work regularly, and shifts are often split into two parts.
”We work according to flight schedules. In the summer and fall that means that there can be a five hour break between morning and evening flights,” Pyhäjärvi explains.
Running a small airport requires some multitasking from employees.
”Our staffers need to be skilled in more than one thing, as the same person will serve customers at many points in their path at the airport: service advising, security checks, luggage handling, maintenance, apron control and even rescue work. One single employee can have ten different competences”, says Pyhäjärvi.
Read about the other airports in the magical north