Schipol CEO: Airport traffic to return to normal by 2023 at earliest

A nearly abandoned D Concourse in Departures 1 at Schiphol, 10 March 2020
A nearly abandoned D Concourse in Departures 1 at Schiphol, 10 March 2020Federico Barrios, used with permission

CEO and Chairman of the Royal Schiphol Group, Dick Benschop, believes that flight traffic at Amsterdam's Schipol Airport will return to its pre-coronavirus levels by 2023 at the earliest, he told newspaper Trouw in an interview.

Benschop, who has headed management at the Netherlands' largest airport since May 2018, says that he is unwilling to increase the number of flights all at once to the maximum capacity of 500,000 flight operations per year.

“I want controlled recovery," he explained. "So we don't want to immediately reach the ceiling again, but in controlled steps," he continued. 

"That can take years."

The global health crisis, and the travel restrictions that came with it, meant that the airport dealt with a 60 percent fall in passengers last month. By the first week of April, the airport had seen its passenger flight movements slashed by 90 percent, with the airport handling just five percent of passengers compared to the same period in 2019.

Prior to the airport's return to capacity, the Schiphol boss is hoping to spark dialogue about the airport's future in the interim, most pertinently on issues relating to noise pollution and aircraft emissions. "That debate was completely stuck," Benschop pointed out. "Due to the corona crisis, a de facto step has been taken until 2023; exactly what the environment has been asking for for so long because of the nuisance."

So far as the process for bringing the airport back to its pre-coronavirus capacity is concerned, Benschop say that decisions are being made concerning what appropriate steps ought to be taken.

"After corona, the world will undoubtedly look different than it did before," he explained. "I don't know how exactly. I am taking into account a range of different outcomes."

"First of all, we do not know how long the crisis will last or how the economic recovery will progress," he continued, pointing out that an increase in video meetings "saves a lot of travel time" and that he does not know what this might come to mean for future travelers.

In the meantime, Benschop is looking into ways to get Schiphol Airport prepared for the new '1.5-meter economy'.

"We are discussing that as a sector," he says. "Schiphol is already partly equipped with screens and stripes on the ground, but the question is how it will go in a situation in which more flights are flying again.”

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