Lelystad Airport opening delay a blow to Schiphol, budget airlines

Minister Cora van Nieuwenhuizen of Infrastructure and Water Management is postponing the expansion of Lelystad Airport by at least a year, the Minister announced on Wednesday, NU.nl reports. 

The plan was that Lelystad Airport will start handling some of Schiphol Airport's flights from April 2019. But the Minister needs more time to research the noise pollution, among other things, this will cause, according to the newspaper. "With maximum pressure on the process, opening Lelystad Airport on 1 April 2019 is possible. But I do not think that is justified. I want to do it carefully, and think it realistic to start from 2020", Van Nieuwenhuizen said.

Last week the CEOs of both Schiphol and Dutch airline KLM said that if Lelystad Airport can't open on time, Schiphol airport will need to expand further. "If Lelystad does not open, I think room should be made at Schiphol where we can grow", KLM CEO Pieter Elbers said to NU.nl. Schiphol CEO Jos Nijhuis said: "If Lelystad can not be filled in, new agreements have to be made. Because we need the capacity that Lelystad would deliver. I want to keep to these agreements, but then Lelystad has to open."

Schiphol is limited to 500 thousand flight movements a year until 2020, a limit the airport is very close to reaching. The plan was to have Lelystad Airport take over some of Schiphol's flights - holiday flights to European destinations mostly carried out by budget airlines - so that Schiphol still has room for expansion on its international network. KLM CEO Elbers previously stated that Schiphol is at risk of losing its international position due to all the space given to cheap airlines.

In December Van Nieuwenhuizen still said she was determined to open Lelystad Airport on target, despite increasing pressure to postpone. "You can't just move it on a month, you work in half years." she said in a debate on the matter. Postponing the opening of the airport now will mean that Lelystad will open in the winter, which will not work. So in the end the opening will have to be postponed for a year, and the cabinet wants to avoid that. "That is the underlying reason that we put maximum effort into achieving the planned date."

Other problems with opening Lelystad Airport on schedule include that errors were made in the noise calculations done in the Environmental Impact Report drawn up for the airport. There is also uncertainty about the number of flight movements the airport will handle. Early this month it became clear that in the expansion of Lelystad Airport, a maximum number of 60 thousand flight movements until 2043 was taken into account, according to NU.nl. That is considerably higher than the maximum of 45 thousand flight movements per year mentioned in the airport's expansion plans. 

This is the second time that the expansion is postponed. The initial intention was that the airport would open in April of this year, but that was postponed because the new distribution of departure and approach routes took longer than expected.