Poor safety measures at Schiphol Airport say pilots

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Safety measures at Schiphol Airport are insufficient to cope with the limitation of noise pollution and the growth of the airport, according to a letter Dutch pilots' association VNV sent to the Tweede Kamer on Wednesday, NOS reports.

The pilots have two main concerns. First is the stress between reducing noise pollution and ensuring safety. The combinations of used runways are currently switched about 16 times per day, with the intention of limiting noise pollution to local residents as much as possible. According to the VNV, this leads to unnecessary confusion and unsafe situations for air traffic control and pilots. 

The VNV calls for a system in which two runways are always in use. This is currently only allowed during times of immense busyness. And that does not seem likely to change soon, a spokesperson for Schiphol said, according to NOS. "Safety is paramount", the spokesperson said. "But we made agreements on using runways that cause as little disturbance to residents as possible."

The second point of concern to the pilots, is the road network of runways and routes for taxiing. According to the association, this ground infrastructure can handle 450 thousand flights a year, while currently around 500 flights make use of them. As a result, aircraft and other vehicles often cross the runways - a major source of danger, the pilots say.

The VNV wants Schiphol to build special taxi lanes that run around the runways, instead of over and through them. The Schiphol spokesperson told NOS that this has not been discussed yet. "But if it appears that additional taxi lanes are needed, we'll definitely deal with it."

In April the Dutch Safety Board released a report that stated that Schiphol needs to take additional safety measures. According to the Board, the airport is safe, but due to its growth it pushes against the limits of responsible risks. The number of incidents at Schiphol has increased every year since 2014, due to the increasing air traffic, according to the Board. Last year there were about 50 incidents, ranging from planes suddenly having to divert to ground vehicles stopping too late after a stop signal, but not necessarily creating a threatening situation. 

The responsible Ministry of Infrastructure denied these criticisms, but since started working on an "integrated safety system" and ordered two investigations into safety at the airport, according to the broadcaster. In future the government will continue to work with Schiphol and other stakeholders on keeping a growing Schiphol safe. On Wednesday the Tweede Kamer - the lower house of Dutch parliament - is holding a closed meeting on the airport, according to the Telegraaf.

The VNV feels that these investigations are not happening fast enough. "They're stranded at consultation tables" a spokesperson said to NOS. The pilots also urge the involved parties to not work for "safe enough, but as safe as possible". 

Schiphol emphasized that safety is not an issue at the airport. "Schiphol is filling up", a spokesperson admitted to NOS. "But we will never make any concessions on safety."

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