Far more runway incidents at Schiphol than other large airports: report

There are significantly more serious incidents on Schiphol airport's runways than at other airports of similar size, AD reports after comparing Schiphol's figures with that of six other airports. All seven airports handle between 400 thousand and 500 thousand flight movements per year.

Last year Schiphol dealt with a total of 47 so-called runway incursions - incidents in which an aircraft, vehicle or person is on a runway currently being used for a landing or takeoff. In the same year, Munich had only three such incidents, New York John F. Kennedy had five and London Heathrow had 13. The airport that came the closest to Schiphol's number of runway incursions, was Chicago O'Hare International with 25 according to Dutch Safety Board data, though at O'Hare in 2016.

"Schiphol is really way ahead", air traffic expert Joris Melkert of TU Delft said to AD. "That is not normal and should not happen. The number is absolutely high compared to other airports. These numbers must be a wakeup call." Hans Heerkens, aeronautical expert at the University of Twente, also expressed concerns.

According to these two experts, the most obvious explanation for the high number of incidents is that the runways at Schiphol are built on different wind directions, while those at other airports aren't. "Those runways are really not convenient at all", Heerkens said to the newspaper. "Aircraft are much less sensitive to cross wind than before. You would rather have a number of parallel runways."

Air Traffic Control Netherlands confirmed that Schiphol has a more complex layout than other airports and that this could play a part in the high number of incidents. But this also makes it difficult to compare the figures with other airports, spokesperson Maj-Britt van Raalte said. "The reporting culture could also play a part", Van Raalte added. "We encourage the reporting of such incidents, specifically to learn from them. Through these insights we want to prevent incidents in the future and thus improve safety."

In a response Schiphol said that it is "a safe airport that complies with all safety levels of national and international regulations", according to AD. 

Earlier this week the Dutch Safety Board announced that it is investigating , caused by a mistake in air traffic control. A plane was given permission to take off on a runway, which a bird watch vehicle was still busy inspecting. The bird watcher heard this on the radio and managed to contact the control tower before anything serious happened. 

In another report on April 6th, the Dutch Safety Board warned that One of these measures was making the handling of air traffic less complex.