16 planes cleared to land on closed Schiphol runway: Report; Air traffic controllers reportedly issue lawsuit threat

Airplane arriving at Schiphol Airport
Airplane arriving at Schiphol AirportPhoto: Schiphol/Twitter

On Saturday, January 18th, the Netherlands' air traffic control LVNL allowed 16 planes to land one after the other on a closed runway at Schiphol airport, NH Nieuws reports based on its own analysis of recordings from the control tower and data from Flightradar24. LVNL is threatening to take the regional broadcaster to court if it does not remove a published fragment from the control tower recordings.

Schiphol determines whether runways are open or closed and air traffic control must adhere to this. Dangerous situations could occur if runways are used that have not been released, for example because people may be working on the runway. 

According to NH Nieuws, it took 25 minutes for LVNL to realize that the Zwanenburg runway it was using on January 18th had not been released. By that time 16 flights had already landed on the runway.

This miscommunication happened because a Transavia aircraft was occupying another runway, according to the broadcaster. The plane had departed from Finland. While flying over Sweden, the crew were informed that the plane had taken off with a pin still in the nose wheel. The plane landed safely at Schiphol, where Transavia's technical team removed the pin. But that occupied a runway where other landings were scheduled.

LVNL therefore redirected incoming flights to the Zwanenburg runway, which had not yet been opened, the broadcaster wrote. The incident was reported to the Dutch Safety Board. LVNL is also investigating. According to air traffic control, there was never any danger.

LVNL is now demanding that NH Nieuws remove a published fragment in which air traffic controllers can be heard instructing planes to land on a closed runway, and is threatening to take the broadcaster to court if it doesn't, NH Nieuws wrote. 

According to the broadcaster, LVNL is relying on a European regulation, which states that recordings of air traffic control may be listened to, but not published again. NH Nieuws said that the social and journalistic importance of this fragment is of such concern that it will not be deleted. The safety situation at Schiphol is an important and relevant topic, the broadcaster said. 

NH Nieuws also said that air traffic control makes selective use of this European regulation. The broadcaster referred to a recording of King Willem-Alexander communicating with air traffic control as a pilot that was published on social media. A communications adviser for LVNL called this a "nice fragment". Last month, LVNL also allowed a vlogger into the control tower, and sound clips were published on their video blog, NH Nieuws said.

The Netherlands association for journalism NVJ is impressed with NH Nieuws for standing its ground, general secretary Thomas Bruning said on Twitter. 

Mirella Visser of local homeowners' group PUSH, is shocked by NH Nieuws' report. According to her, this mistake shows that Schiphol is not ready for further growth. "We are shocked and surprised that this could have happened," she said to NH Nieuws. The group of residents living around the airport wants Schiphol's growth to be halted until 2023. "It must be safe to grow, and if we wait until 2023, we can also look at the layout of runways again. Residents should of course not be overlooked here."