Ålesund Airport, Vigra (Norwegian: Ålesund lufthavn, Vigra, IATA: AES, ICAO: ENAL), or alternatively Alesund Vigra Airport, is an international airport serving the town of Ålesund in Møre og Romsdal county, Norway. It is located on the island of Vigra in Giske Municipality and features a 2,314-meter (7,592 ft) runway aligned 07/25. The airport served 1,077,209 passengers in 2013, making it the tenth-busiest airport in the country. Scheduled services are provided domestically to Oslo, Bergen and Trondheim by Scandinavian Airlines (SAS)¸ Norwegian Air Shuttle and Widerøe. International scheduled services are provided by Air Baltic, KLM Cityhopper, Norwegian, SAS and Wizz Air.
The first airport serving Ålesund was Ålesund Airport, Sørneset, a water aerodrome. Vigra narrowly beat Aukra Airport, Gossen as the main airport for Møre og Romsdal and subsequently opened on 7 June 1958. It originally featured a 1,600-meter (5,200 ft) runway and all scheduled flights were provided by Braathens SAFE. Except for regional routes operated by Widerøe from 1971 to 1993, Braathens flew all routes out of Vigra until 1998. International flights commenced in 1977 and a new terminal opened in 1986. The National Air Ambulance Service has operated out of the airport since 1988.
Between 1995 and 1998 the 330 Squadron had a detachment at Vigra for its Westland Sea King for search and rescue. Color Air and SAS started flying to Ålesund in 1998. After suffering heavy losses, SAS bought Braathens and Color Air closed down. Norwegian Air Shuttle thereafter entered, first in 2004 and then in 2008. The terminal was expanded in 2007 and since the airport has seen a series of international destinations.
Plans for scheduled flights to Ålesund were first articulated in 1919 by a government commission as part of a coastal seaplane route from Stavanger to Trondheim. The first landing in Ålesund took place on 27 May 1920. Thereafter flights were sporadic. The Royal Norwegian Navy Air Service set up a base at Skutvika near the town center in November 1929, which they used to search for herring. They moved the base the following year, establishing Ålesund Airport, Sørneset. Later used both for civilian flights, scheduled services and Luftwaffe operations, the water aerodrome remained in use until 1979.
Work on a land airport around Ålesund started with a public speech held by Hjalmar Riiser-Larsen in 1933. In the following excursion, he proposed Moa and Vigra as suitable locations. The former was preferred by the government, who included it in its 1935 plan for primary airports. The Luftwaffe also considered Moa as a suitable location, but instead opted to build Aukra Airport, Gossen. However, that airport was not completed by the end of the Second World War in 1945.
After the war ended Møre og Romsdal County Municipality established a commission to look into the location of a central airport for the county of Møre og Romsdal. They concluded that since Gossen was nearly completed and was more centrally located within the county, it would be a preferred location. In Ålesund there was work with having Vigra chosen. They founded A/S Vigra Flyplass and in 1951 two students made calculations showing that Vigra would be cheaper than Gossen. The latter was selected by Parliament in 1952.
The Civil Airport Administration (CAA) issued NOK 3.2 million for the upgrade of Gossen in 1955. However, Vestlandske Luftfartsselskap which was operating the seaplane route along the coast, launched a plan to operate Scottish Aviation Twin Pioneer aircraft from a 400-meter (1,300 ft) runway at Vigra. The CAA therefore placed Gossen's funding on hold. Ålesund Municipality appointed a commission which demanded that the runway should be 1,000 meters (3,300 ft), allowing for operation of the de Havilland Heron. They negotiated the purchase of the necessary 50 hectares (120 acres) of land at Vigra and started construction on 9 January 1957. At this point Vigra was planned as a regional airport.
Within a short period the CAA determined that the Twin Pioneer would not be approved and that, following Braathens SAFE Flight 253 that Heron's would not be allowed to fly during winter. The municipality therefore applied in February 1957 that Vigra be given status as a primary airport. Parliament approved this and granted funding for air traffic control and operations. Construction involved building a 1,600-by-40-meter (5,250 by 130 ft) runway and 350 meters (1,150 ft) to taxiway. These were built by Veibygg, Fredrikstad Granittkompani and Korsbrekke og Lorck. The terminal was building measured 820 square meters (8,800 sq ft), of which 300 square meters (3,200 sq ft) was a garage, and was built by Bjarne Haugseth. Ålesund Municipality was the owner and developer. Three radio beacons were built.
Ålesund was to be connected both to Oslo Airport, Fornebu, and to a coastal service from Stavanger Airport, Sola via Bergen Airport, Flesland and Ålesund to Trondheim Airport, Værnes. The latter had been operated by Vestlandske Luftfartselskap, but they went bankrupt in 1957. Both Braathens SAFE and SAS applied for the Ålesund concession. Initially the ministry wanted to award the coastal service to Braathens and the Oslo route to SAS. But after negotiations, Braathens SAFE stated they were willing to fly the coastal route without subsidies if they were granted the Oslo-route, allowing them to cross-subsidize the former. This was accepted by the ministry.
The first aircraft to land was a military de Havilland Canada DHC-3 Otter, on 19 May 1958 with supplies for the navigational aids. Braathens landed a Heron on 2 June. The official opening took place on 7 June with 3,000 spectators. Flights were at first flown using the Douglas DC-4. Initially the coastal service and the Oslo service were flown one time per day.
Vigra did not originally have more to a terminal than a waiting hall. Check-in and baggage pick-up was handled at Braathens SAFE's offices at Skateflua in the city center. They were then transported by bus to the airport by Record og Vigra Rutelag (RVR). They also operated a new car ferry services which was established between Ålesund and Valderøy. Møre og Romsdal Fylkesbåtar (MRF) took over the ferry service from 1965.
Ownership of the airport passed to the CAA and the state from September 1959. This coincided with a new taxiway from the runway and the opening of the instrument landing system (ILS). This could only be used on runway 25. The Vigra Transmitter was situated in the way for the other direction. The ILS was installed without an inner marker. The tarmac was extended in 1960 to make way for a general aviation section near the control tower. Due to sinking of the runway it had to be re-asphalted the following year.
Braathens introduced their new Fokker F27 Friendship from 9 January 1959. From the summer program it flew two daily flights to Oslo and from 1961 twice per day on the coastal route. VHF omnidirectional range and distance measuring equipment navigational system were installed in 1963. Ålesund Airport experienced a massive increase in traffic during the 1960s. A third daily departure to Oslo was introduced in August 1963 and on the coastal route from 2 May 1964. The latter was extended to Bodø Airport and Tromsø Airport from 1 April 1967, and upgraded to a fourth daily service. Some Oslo services were provided using a Douglas DC-6. A year later the coastal route increased to five daily trips, which was matched by the Oslo route in 1969. That year also saws the installation of a visual approach slope indicator and the introduction of the Fokker F28 Fellowship in March.
MRF introduced a hovercraft service from Ørsta via Hareid to Ålesund and Vigra, then onwards to Molde and Åndalsnes. The 18-passenger craft sank only days after the service was inaugurated in April 1965. Two more hovercraft were delivered and served the route. Travel times was 50 minutes to Molde, 80 minutes to Åndalsnes, 25 minutes to Hareid and 50 minutes to Ørsta. However, by the time of the fall storms the authorities withdrew the operating certificate due to safety concerns.
In the course of two years the number of airports in Møre og Romsdal increased from one to four, having a dramatical effect on patronage at Vigra. Kristiansund Airport, Kvernberget opened on 30 June 1970 after which two of the four daily Oslo services were moved there. Ørsta–Volda Airport, Hovden opened on 1 July 1971, along with three airports in Sogn og Fjordane—Florø, Førde and Sogndal. These were connected to Vigra with Widerøe's de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter services. Molde Airport, Årø opened on 5 April 1972. Braathens introduced its Boeing 737-200 on one of the Oslo services that year.
A new 728-square-meter (7,840 sq ft) works building opened in 1972, including a new fire station, command center and workshop. The Friendship was pulled out of Vigra from 1976, by which time Braathens was back up to fifteen daily services. The Fellowships had five departures in each direction on the coastal service and the 737s had taken over all the Oslo services. To handle the increased traffic the terminal was slightly expanded with a temporary structure, allowing the airport to handle two simultaneous aircraft.
New terminal and longer runway
The first inclusive tour charter at Vigra was carried out by Stjernereiser in June 1977, contracting a Sud Aviation Caravelle from Transeuropa to Palma de Mallorca. The short runway meant that the aircraft could not take a full tank of fuel and therefore stopped in Stavanger to refuel. Vigra saw a limited amount of charter, largely since all flight had to have an intermediate landing.
Mørefly, an Ålesund-based air ambulance and helicopter operator, relocated its base from Sørneset to Vigra in 1979. This followed their building of a 750-square-meter (8,100 sq ft) hangar and office building at the airport.Braathens extended its city offices in 1979 and the following year a new wing was added to the terminal for international arrivals. Baggage could from then be picked up either at the airport or in the city center.
Meanwhile, the traffic increased made it necessary for the airport to receive a new major upgrade. The works building was expanded in 1982, including more garages and office space. A new 953-square-meter (10,260 sq ft) control tower was taken into use in November 1984. A new 4,816-square-meter (51,840 sq ft) terminal was also built for NOK 53 million. It included an upper story with a restaurant.
MRF operated a fast ferry service from Hareid to Vigra from 12 September 1983. The parking was expanded from 60 to 254 places, and from 1986 parking became paid. A private competitor, Vigra Parkering, offered parking from 1985 to 1991, after which the CAA bought the lot. The new terminal also featured car rental from four companies. Although the old terminal was proposed used as an offshore helicopter terminal, it caught fire in 1986 and was demolished the following year. Mørefly introduced the first international scheduled service, to Aberdeen Airport in the United Kingdom, from 14 April 1986. In conjunction with this the airport introduced airport security for select passengers. The Aberdeen route was terminated on 28 March 1987.
The National Air Ambulance Service was established on 1 January 1988. Vigra was selected as the base both for a Beechcraft Super King Air fixed-wing air ambulance and an Aérospatiale SA365N Dauphin 2 rotorcraft. From 1 November 1988 to 31 January 1989 Mørefly operated an Aérospatiale SA332 Super Puma search and rescue helicopter from Vigra, before this was relocated. The Dauphin was relocated to Ålesund Heliport, Hospital when it opened in 1993. Mørefly merged with Lufttransport in 1995.
The Vigra Fixed Link opened between 1987 and 1989. It consists of the 3,520-meter (11,550 ft) long Ellingsøy Tunnel between Ålesund and Ellingsøya, the 4,222-meter (13,852 ft) long Valderøy Tunnel connecting the islands of Ellingsøya and Valderøya, and others. This allowed travelers from Ålesund to reach the airport without a ferry. They remained a toll road until 25 October 2009. RVR and the airport coach service was taken over by Ålesund Bilruter from 1 January 1988.
A precision approach path indicator system was completed in 1991. Three years later an automatic terminal information service was taken into use. The airport had for years been limited by its short runway. The construction of the tunnels spurred a surplus of earthwork, which could be used to reclaim land east of the tunnel and extend the runway along it. However, the extension of the runway proper did not take place until 1994, costing NOK 60 million. The new 2,300-meter (7,500 ft) runway was taken into use on 20 October 1995. The most important part of this extension was that inclusive tour charters resumed from the airport, after several years without such services due to the need for a refueling stop. The airport therefore opened a duty-free store in 1996.
Braathens introduced its Boeing 737-500 at Ålesund in 1990, replacing its older -200s by 1995. Widerøe withdrew from Ålesund in 1993, when the Twin Otters were retired. The same year Braathens subcontracted some Ålesund routes to their regional affiliate, Norwegian Air Shuttle, who operated the Fokker 50.
The Super Puma search and rescue service spurred public demands for a rescue helicopter to be based at Vigra. From 11 September 1995 the 330 Squadron of the Royal Norwegian Air Force stated a Westland Sea King helicopter at Vigra for such a service. However, the proximity to Ørland Main Air Station proved that the area was well covered from there. The service was therefore closed from 1 January 1999 and relocated to Rygge Air Station.