12 December 2022, etc.venues Monument, London
Business Travel Show Europe, presented by The BTN
21 November, London Hilton Metropole
Did you know that there was one country in Europe that was occupied by both the Germans and the British during World War II? The Germans swept into Denmark in 1940 and remained as invaders until cessation of hostilities in May 1945. The King chose to stay in Copenhagen as a symbol of Danish resistance.
Far out in the Atlantic, 900 miles from Copenhagen, and 250 miles north of Scotland, the 18 (17 inhabited) Faroe Islands were taken over in a friendly invasion by the British to prevent the islands becoming a possible base for the German navy and its u-boats. The RAF built a runway and an inland lake was used for seaplane operations. At the end of the war some 250 locals married and left the islands.
Part of Denmark since 1380, the Faroe Islands have been self-governing since 1948. It has its own parliament and flag and has two members in the Danish parliament. It's not, however, a member of the European Union and all trade is governed by special treaties. About 95% of its overseas income is generated from fishing and this is the main reason for its refusal to join the EU.
Unlike the UK, where the Edward Heath government allowed Spanish and Portuguese seamen to fish in British waters, the Faroe islanders have kept foreigners out of their fishing grounds. And the islands have prospered as a result. Sheep and cattle farming is another source of income. Oil also holds prospects with the high international price making exploration worthwhile.
The islands are thriving, with a high standard of living (85% of people own their own homes). The islanders have a high quality of education and fine road systems with the islands linked either by undersea tunnels or ferries. There is free health care for British (and Nordic) visitors, mobile phones work and tipping is frowned upon. There is a good bus service but if you need to drive it is on the right. Petrol, not that you will require much, is cheaper than in the UK. Just like their Danish mentors the Faroe islanders have frowned upon the Euro, keeping the Kroner as legal currency. Otherwise it is plastic.
Today the population numbers a little under 50,000, about the same as Guernsey, and in many respects the Faroes can be compared with the Channel Islands, except somewhat colder and not so green. However they do have a national soccer team, recognised by FIFA, and it's a competitor in major tournaments. They may never actually win but two legged matches do bring in the opposition supporters (well the Scots at least. The French are noticeable for their lack of travelling fans). The little stadium in the capital T”rshavn does not even have a proper covered stand. The islands are windswept and except in the occasional well-protected valleys, shorn of trees.
The second biggest source of external income is tourism. Let”s be honest and say that the islands will not appeal to everyone. Whilst they lie in the Gulf Stream, it never gets that hot, with the average temperature 7c with a minimum of -5c and the warmest ever recorded just 22c. However if you are into ornithology there are about 62 species of breeding birds known to visit the islands in any one year. The islands have a remarkable history and this is grounded in the story of the Vikings.
You can get to the Faroes by sea or air. But both have problems. The thrice-weekly ferry service to both Bergen in Norway and Lerwick in the Shetland Islands can be less than smooth at times. And the frequent flights to Copenhagen, Aberdeen, Aalborg, Billund, Oslo and Reykjvak, are sometimes cancelled due to fog. The islands share a single airport with a 1,300m runway and a difficult approach at each end.
It is not on the main island of Streymoy, but is on Vagar, 35 miles away along a fine single carriageway road that goes via a three-mile undersea toll tunnel. It's reminiscent of airports at Southampton and Inverness” a small modern single story building with all facilities. Atlantic Airways is the main local carrier, currently owned by the Faroes local government with a partial privatisation and floatation on the Icelandic stock exchange planned for later in the year.
Established in 1988 Atlantic Airways has been profitable since 1995, with the pullout of Maersk in 2004 offering good news for the airline. But this wasn't welcomed by many on the islands. Today it operates five BAe 146 and a sole Avro RJ100. About 85% of its scheduled passengers derive from the Copenhagen route and stand for 56% of total income. A $4m profit was achieved last year. The airline is developing wet lease and charter activities and will benefit from new European airline freedoms in 2007.
Until the end of the summer season it ran a twice-weekly service to Stansted via Sumburgh in the Shetlands, and this is expected to re-start in spring. In recent times Atlantic Airlines has expanded into helicopter operations and now has both single Bell 212 and Bell 214 machines with an AW139 due for delivery in 2007. Search and rescue, island support and offshore activities are all expanding.
The new boy on the block is Faroe Islands start-up carrier Faroejet which began scheduled operations on May 15 this year with a single Copenhagen-based Avro RJ100. Declining to classify itself as either low-cost or traditional, Faroejet offers a single class product with a complimentary hot meal service and non-alcoholic refreshments. Alcoholic drinks are available for sale on board.
Passengers are offered free transport around the islands. Managing director is Johan Simonsen, who says Faroejet aims to carry around 35,000 passengers in its first year. Faroejet is owned by 900 private investors and companies, the key shareholders comprising Faroe Islands bank Nordoyar Sparikassi, which has a 10% stake, and freight forwarder Safari Transport, also with 10%. Plans for 2007 call for twice-daily services during the peak summer months with a second aircraft under consideration.