Limited shrinking of aviation sector won't hurt Dutch economy: study

KLM Boeing 737-700, PH-BGP at Schiphol Airport
KLM Boeing 737-700, PH-BGP at Schiphol AirportSaschaporsche / Wikimedia Commons

"A moderation in growth or a limited decline in aviation" will not hurt the Dutch economy, but will benefit the environment, research agency CE Delft concluded in a study commissioned by Natuur en Milieu. The researchers found that there is no scientific basis for five important arguments often used as reasons not to limit growth in the aviation sector, NOS reports.

The study, titled 'Must aviation grow to maintain our prosperity?', looked at a number of arguments often used in politics and media. The researchers found no scientific basis for the claims that aviation is of great importance for the Dutch economy, and of great importance for employment, that limiting growth will make the 'hub function' disappear at Schiphol, that flight tax will hurt the sector, and that a flight tax will not produce any benefits for the environment.

Earlier this month the government announced that Schiphol will be allowed to grow further after 2020, under conditions. The airport is currently limited to 500 thousand flight movements per year. After next year, it will be allowed to grow to 540 thousand takeoffs and landings per year. The letter to parliament in which Minister Cora van Nieuwenhuizen of Infrastructure announced this decision, contains a number of arguments for Schiphol's growth. These include some that CE Delft found no scientific basis for, according to the broadcaster.

For example, the Minister wrote:"It is important that the sector has the prospect of growth again from 2021. Connectivity with the rest of the world, which is at a high level thanks to Schiphol's hub function, is important for our open economy."

According to CE Delft researcher Jasper Faber, this is not automatically true that limiting growth will affect Schiphol's hub function. He referred to Heathrow airport near London, which has been dealing with physical limits to its growth for over a decade. "Heathrow still has a hub function, there are still many transfer passengers. The number of destinations decreased, but they focused on the most profitable routes", he said to NOS. 

The statement that Schiphol's growth is of great importance for the business climate is also incorrect, Faber said. "Accessibility is one of the less important aspects for companies. A well-educated population, a pleasant living environment and a favorable tax climate are all more important, if you ask companies." 

The claim that Schiphol's growth is good for the economy can also not be sustained, Faber said to the broadcaster. "There is no evidence that more aviation leads to more economic growth or more economic benefits." A little shrinkage will not harm the economy either, he said. "Then it involves five or ten percent fewer flight movements. Not a more rigorous reduction, such as half, because then it is obviously harmful."

The researcher hopes that this study will lead to the discussion about Schiphol being more based on facts. "What does growth really bring us and what does it cost us in terms of climate an noise pollution? So that decisions are better and more effectively substantiated", he said to the broadcaster. 

"All sectors now realize that things have to change, only the aviation sector and the minister continue to shout about how important the growth of Schiphol and the Dutch aviation sector is for the Netherlands. We break that myth with this report", Marjolein Demmers, director of environmental organization Natuur en Milieu, said to NOS. "It is time to say goodbye to this old growth thinking and make decisions about Dutch aviation on the basis of facts. They show that the Netherlands benefits more from shrinkage than from growth."

Figures from the Dutch emissions authority NEa recently showed that aviation is the only sector in the Netherlands still showing a significant increase in CO2 emissions. Almost all other sectors managed to reduce their emissions over the past five years. A previous study by CE Delft also showed that Schiphol is responsible for almost the same amount of emissions as all the cars in the Netherlands. 

Schiphol told NOS in a reaction that the arguments examined by CE Delft do not apply to the airport. Schiphol agrees with CE Delft that the aviation sector offers direct employment to 65 thousand people and contributes to the business climate. But the airport says it cannot judge the other arguments "because we do not use those arguments in that way", according to the broadcaster.