KLM surprised: Cabinet plans to force Schiphol to drop 60,000 flights per year
KLM said it fears that the survival of its network as we know it today will be jeopardized by the Cabinet’s decision to downsize Schiphol. It called a new proposal from The Hague to cut over 12 percent of flights from the airport "dramatic," and pointed out that the function of both Schiphol as a hub, and KLM itself, will be strongly undermined.
With a maximum of 440,000 flights per year, Schiphol can still maintain its international network of destinations, Infrastructure Minister Mark Harbers speculated. The reduction from the current ceiling of about 500,000 flights is necessary to reduce the pollution and noise disturbance caused by the airport.
Harbers emphasized the importance of a good international airport for the economy and the business climate, but also that of a healthy and pleasant living environment. The decision to allow fewer flights should ensure "a new balance.” The new upper limit is expected to be introduced in November next year.
The decision is "unfortunately a difficult message" for aviation, Harbers acknowledged. He is aware that the industry is only just now recovering from the drastic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. The minister promised to involve all stakeholders, from local residents to airlines, as it develops plans in the near future.
A decision on opening the Lelystad Airport for passenger flights has been postponed by two years. The airport must first obtain a nature permit and the problem with the low flight routes must be solved.
Although political support for Lelystad Airport has also largely evaporated in recent years, Harbers said the rumors about cancelling plans at the regional airport are unfounded. He maintained that moving holiday flights to Lelystad can also contribute to preserving Schiphol's function as a network hub.
Schiphol owes its large international reach largely to its main airline, KLM. It can only maintain the offer of distant destinations if there is also room for shorter flights that get transferring passengers to the Amsterdam area airport.
KLM currently flies to about 170 destinations in the world. However, some connections will likely disappear if fewer flights are offered. As a result, tickets may not sell well fors some flights, making certain routes less profitable, the company reasoned in its response to the plans.
If KLM has to give up slots, it will first have to give up its smallest aircraft and then focus more on European transport flows with its larger aircraft, flown at a lower frequency. Other destinations will then probably disappear.
The company also said it was surprised by the government's sudden intention to significantly shrink Schiphol’s operations. That is because the new plans is at odds with what was said earlier in the coalition agreement. KLM regretted this all the more because the contraction will hardly make a dent in the nitrogen emissions problem facing the Netherlands.
The airline also believes that the measures will soon cause more people to experience noise pollution. This is because the decision will mark a return to the old system of measuring noise, meaning that the runways with more local residents, namely the Buitenveldert and Zwanenburg runways, would then be used more often.
Schiphol itself said that it did not want growth for the sake of growth, but it also does not want “contraction for the sake of contraction.” In a statement, it said, "We are in favor of a well-thought-out approach." The plans as they were presented will lead to great uncertainty and much remains unclear. That is why the airport wants to enter into consultations with the Cabinet together with the airlines. Schiphol also called it "disappointing" that a decision about Lelystad Airport will only take place in 2024. "We hope this can be done sooner."
Reporting by ANP