Icelandic carrier Niceair launching in June

Mar 7, 2022

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Iceland has become one of the world’s hottest tourist destinations, and it’s not just because of its intense volcanic activity.

The 2009 eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull put the country in the spotlight, but Iceland’s spectacular landscapes and unspoiled nature have lent themselves particularly well to the era of Instagram, drawing an increasing number of visitors to this Nordic island.

In the decade preceding COVID-19, foreign visitor numbers in Iceland multiplied fivefold, from around 500,000 to nearly 2.5 million per year.

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It helps that Keflavik international airport (KEF) is a pretty well-connected air hub, linking Europe and North America thanks to its mid-Atlantic location.

Air service to Iceland

In addition to the two local carriers, Icelandair and the new low-cost carrier Play, major European airlines such as British Airways, Easyjet, Lufthansa, Wizz Air and SAS, to name just a few, fly to Keflavik year-round, while Delta Airlines and Air Canada operate seasonal services to and from the U.S. and Canada.

Related: Low-cost Icelandic carrier Play adds Orlando to growing list of US destinations

When it comes to air travel, this nation of just over 350,000 inhabitants already punches well above its weight, but more capacity is yet to come in the form of a brand-new carrier.

Niceair, an Icelandic startup airline, is launching this June, flying nonstop from Akureyri Airport (AEY), on the north coast of Iceland, to several European destinations.

This new Icelandic gateway will open up the vast expanse of northern and eastern Iceland that, to this day, remain relatively untouched by the country’s newfound relationship with tourism.

In fact, the effects of the Icelandic tourism boom have been slow to trickle down to other regions of the country: 80% of foreign visitors stick to the southwestern corner of the island, with few venturing more than 100 miles from Reykjavik, the nation’s capital city. This concentration in a relatively small area is at the root of emerging concerns about over-tourism.

Return visitors head to Northern Iceland

In contrast, the north of Iceland has become a destination for repeat visitors that are looking for less crowded experiences. Remarkably, 70% of those visiting Iceland for the second or third time head straight to its northern regions, according to data from the Icelandic Tourism Bureau.

This is a region not devoid of attractions, particularly for lovers of outdoor activities. It has some of the best whale watching and skiing in Iceland, it is the gateway to Western Europe’s largest national park and its unique volcanic environment was even used by NASA to train the Apollo astronauts.

Akureyri, the largest urban center on the north coast of Iceland, is about 250 miles away from Reykjavik, though, which means that any visitors must drive five or more hours along Iceland’s Ring Road or take a domestic flight. The only international connection is seasonal service to and from Amsterdam (AMS) operated by Transavia.

Northern Iceland takes tourism cue from the Faroe Islands

By facilitating direct access from European markets, Niceair’s founders aim to put northern Iceland firmly on Europe’s tourist map.

The Faroe Islands are an example of how this is done. This rugged North Atlantic archipelago, halfway between Iceland and Scotland, has seen tourism arrivals soar in tandem with the growth of the local airline, Atlantic Airways, which operates a fleet of three A320-family aircraft.

Related: London to get a nonstop route to the Faroe Islands this summer

“We look at the Faroes, which is also a relatively remote territory with a population similar to ours, some 50,000 people. If they are able to sustain an operation of that size, I don’t see why we couldn’t do the same here,” points out Thorvaldur Ludvik Sigurjonsson, founder and CEO of Niceair.

For the time being, Niceair will start with a single aircraft, a 150-seat Airbus A319 that is a wet lease from an undisclosed European operator. That way they can gauge demand before committing more resources to the venture. Sigurjonsson said if things go according to plan, they will add more aircraft in the near future.

Bottom line

The new airline, whose name is wordplay that can be read also as N(orth) Ice(land) Air, is backed by a number of local businesses, each with a minority stake in the company, a fact that underscores its expected role in stimulating the local economy.

A countdown clock currently reminds visitors to the airline’s website of the announced launch date on June 2.

We won’t have to wait that long to learn more details about the airline’s operational setup, though. Sigurjonsson announced that this March the initial route network will be announced and it is expected to include two or three major European destinations.

Featured image courtesy of Niceair.

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