Illuminated entrance of Amsterdam Airport Schiphol at night

Dutch government proceeds with plan to cut Schiphol flights

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Green Wing logo with white letters against a green backdrop, and leafs on either sideThree airline associations have issued a warning to the Netherlands’ caretaker government not to push through proposed flight cuts at Amsterdam Schiphol airport ahead of national elections in November, but the plea appears to have fallen on deaf ears.

In a joint statement issued 31 August, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), European Business Aviation Association (EBAA) and European Regions Airline Association (ERA) argue that any attempt by “a failed government in caretaker mode to rush through the flight cuts at Schiphol would be irresponsible on several levels”. 

They add that “such a consequential and controversial move requires proper democratic scrutiny and political accountability”, emphasizing that the issue cannot be considered “uncontroversial” because it is “strongly opposed” by the airline industry.

Despite the airlines’ plea, however, the caretaker government is pressing ahead with the Schiphol plan. A spokesperson for the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management confirms to Runway Girl Network that the cabinet today submitted a plan to cap flights at the Dutch hub to the European Commission for approval under the ‘Balanced Approach’ procedure. If the proposals receive the green light, the cabinet can then make a final decision. 

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“Aviation has given the Netherlands many good things, but not enough attention was paid for too long to the negative effects on people living around the airport,” states infrastructure and water management minister Mark Harbers. “The decision we announced last year meant that we were taking a step that has not been taken anywhere else in the world. Today, we are presenting the measures that can be implemented in 2024.”

The newly submitted plan calls for flights to and from Schiphol to be capped at 452,500 from 2024. The government had in June 2022 proposed limiting flights to a maximum of 440,000 a year — down from the current capacity of 500,000 — in an attempt to cut noise and emissions. Earlier this year, the airport’s operator, Schiphol Group, said it would temporarily cap aircraft movements from winter 2023 at 460,000 as an “intermediate step” while the details of the government’s proposal were ironed out.

The latest plan does not include the airport’s proposal to ban night flights because “these are measures that cannot be taken within the procedure”, says the ministry. However, it does call for the use of “quieter aircraft” between 23:00 and 07:00, and a reduction in the number of night flights to 28,700 – down from a maximum of 32,000.

Airports association ACI Europe has condemned the government’s decision to proceed with the planned cuts.

“[T]he caretaker Dutch government has not sufficiently considered proposed alternative measures that would have allowed the stated noise mitigation targets to be achieved without requiring a capacity reduction at Schiphol,” says ACI Europe director general Olivier Jankovec. “We are calling upon the European Commission to urgently ensure the respect of the Balanced Approach principles as per EU law.”

In late July, a group of carriers including KLM Group, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, easyJet and JetBlue Airways said they would take their fight against the government’s Schiphol plans to the Netherlands Supreme Court. This followed a ruling by the Amsterdam Court of Appeal earlier in July that the temporary experimental scheme to cut flights at the Dutch hub could go ahead, overturning a decision by another court in April which had ruled in favor of the airlines and blocked the move.

That same month, however, the Dutch coalition government collapsed following disagreements between parties over asylum policies. Prime Minister Mark Rutte is currently leading a caretaker government until an election takes place in November.

“It is essential that any decision be postponed until a fully functioning and accountable government with a fresh mandate is in place,” says IATA director general Willie Walsh. “This unprecedented and complex proposal can then be considered fully, with the legal questions settled and the full facts and implications understood and in the public domain, and with sufficient time for the air transport industry to adapt, if necessary, when a final decision is known.”

Even if the caretaker government were to delay a final decision on its plan to begin capping aircraft movements at Schiphol until after the election, airlines could find that their efforts amount to little more than stalling tactics. Last month, a survey conducted by Europe Elects indicated that an alliance of the Dutch center-left PvdA party and the GroenLinks green party had taken the lead in polls

Hoping to lead that alliance is former European Union climate chief Frans Timmermans, who led work on the European Green Deal until his resignation in late August to focus on Dutch politics.

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Featured image credited to istock.com/VLIET