Iceland’s airport and air navigation services operator Isavia is re-opening Keflavik International Airport for the limited use of crosswind flight testing of new aircraft.

The agreement is a breakthrough for Airbus and Boeing which, together with other manufacturers, have jointly lobbied the Icelandic government-owned airport operator to allow use of the facility which is famous for its predictable and ferocious crosswinds. The airport has two perpendicular runways over 10,000 ft. long, and regularly experiences steady crosswinds of 35 kt. or higher from November through March.

However, despite having been used consistently by Airbus, Boeing and others since 2000, Keflavik was closed to flight test programs by Isavia following a 2013 landing accident involving a Sukhoi SSJ100. Although Airbus was able to test the A350-900 in 2014 and 2015, the ban was reinstated from 2016 onward when the runways and electrical systems at Keflavik were upgraded and as air traffic increased as the airport developed into a trans-Atlantic hub for LCCs.   

Following numerous industry requests, the Icelandic company reconsidered its stance and, in early 2018, granted access to COMAC for one-off tests of the ARJ21 regional airliner. “On the completion of these tests, Isavia decided to revise procedures for test flights and that further test flights would not be permitted until such work had been completed,” the operator said. 

The company sought advice from an unidentified test pilot school and, based on its recommendations, adopted new rules for any company wishing to test aircraft. These required applicants to provide a detailed risk assessment to show the test will not pose a threat to nearby urban areas or impact the safety of the airport, as well as restrict tests to set times and periods of the year.

The company said that, with the new procedures in place, crosswind tests for six aircraft have now been approved. Although Isavia declines to identify them at least three are believed to be the 777-8/9 and 737-10, while another is believed to be the A330-800.

Under the new rules, test flights will only be permitted from October to the end of March each year, outside of Keflavik’s peak season, and only between blocks of hours in the late morning/early afternoon and evening when traffic through the Icelandic hub is at its lightest.

Guy Norris