The last-minute decision this summer to scrap a proposed Murmansk to Oslo air route — even before the first flight had taken off — highlights the fragility of Europe’s aviation network in the northernmost reaches of the continent.
The North Calotte region, stretching from the Lofoten Islands in the west to the Kola Peninsula in the east, lies mainly beyond the Arctic Circle and includes parts of four countries: Norway, Sweden, Finland and the Russian Federation. It is a region which poses special challenges for commercial aviation, with difficult winter weather conditions and many remote airports relying on some element of subsidy to stay in business. Longer-distance air links to and from the region have come and gone.
For many years there were regular scheduled flights from Tromsø to Murmansk. Twenty years ago, passengers had a choice of two carriers on that route: Braathens and Aeroflot. The Braathens flight was a weekly jet service which originated in Oslo, giving a direct link, albeit with an en route stop, from the Norwegian capital to Russia’s principal Barents Sea port. The 1,700-km flight from Oslo to Murmansk via Tromsø took four-and-a-half hours.
Back in 1998, Aeroflot also flew from Murmansk to three other destinations in the Scandinavian North Calotte: Rovaniemi (Finland), Luleå (Sweden) and Kirkenes (Norway). The latter route was also served by the Norwegian carrier Widerøe.
Over time, carriers changed.