Drastic Schiphol flight reduction plan halted over US, EU pressure
This article will be updated
The Dutch Cabinet’s plan to substantially reduce the number of flight movements at Schiphol Airport has been put on hold after intense and ongoing criticism from the United States, said caretaker Infrastructure Minister Mark Harbers. In a letter to Parliament on Tuesday, he also cited the position of the Canadian government, as well as the European Commission in deciding to suspend plans to implement the cuts.
The Cabinet told Schiphol that it was cutting down the maximum number of flight movements from 500,000 to 460,000 starting in April. That total was to fall further to 452,500 in the winter, for a total of about 9.5 percent in flight reductions. The total was expected to be reduced further to 440,000 by 2025.
As the largest airline operating at Schiphol, the cuts were going to force KLM to cut 17 flights from its schedule daily during the next summer season. The American airline JetBlue was told it would lose all its takeoff and landing slots, along with 23 other airlines that do not have historical rights to operate at the airport. In total, U.S. businesses were expected to lose 1,135 slots at Schiphol.
JetBlue pushed the U.S. Department of Transportation to take retaliatory action against the Netherlands by punishing KLM. Because of the open-skies aviation treaty with the United States, KLM was at risk of losing the ability to provide over a thousand flights to or from American cities.
“As previously reported, Canada and the United States have expressed concerns about the capacity reduction at Schiphol. We have also received signals of concern from other countries,” Harbers wrote. “In addition, a letter was received on November 13, 2023 from the European Commissioner for Transport, Ms. Vălean, which conveys serious concerns about the failure to follow the balanced approach procedure for the implementation” of the first set of cuts.
The “balanced approach procedure” refers to the steps politicians need to take when making decisions which impact an organization’s operations in order to enforce compliance with the European Noise Ordinance. The Amsterdam Court of Appeals ruled that the balanced approach was only necessary for determining more permanent measures, overruling a lower court’s decision. KLM and airline industry association IATA appealed the case to the Supreme Court.
Harbers said, “However, I will continue to hold firm and continue to work on the goal,” specifically by addressing the issue by using the balanced approach, at least while the Supreme Court considers the case. “The government is therefore determined to continue the balanced approach procedure to reduce noise pollution and to record this in regulations,” Harbers wrote.
“Given the consequences of the above for local residents, I have strongly appealed to KLM, as the largest user of Schiphol, to consider whether they will be able to take measures with effect from March 31, 2024, pending the balanced approach procedure, to limit noise pollution and give priority to the nighttime hours.” He said KLM agreed to use its quietest aircraft at night to the greatest extent possible, and to limit departures and landings during overnight hours.
In response to the announcement, KLM said it was “satisfied.” “It is an important step to prevent retaliation and to continue flying to the US. In addition, the European Commission has sent a clear signal to go through a careful legal process according to the balanced approach,” the airline wrote in a statement. KLM also stated that it has ”agreed to a number of announced measures, such as the cleaner, quieter and more economical plan, to accelerate the reduction of noise pollution.”
In a reaction, Schiphol Airport said it was “disappointed with this development." "Local residents are getting the short end of the stick. Reducing the number of flights is not a goal in itself for us, but the Experimental Ruling did provide clarity and certainty for local residents," they stated. The need for a night closure is becoming even greater, Schiphol argued. "This also applies to the other measures in our 8-point plan, such as the ban on private flights and the banning of the noisiest aircraft."
The government's experimental regulation is being suspended. This means that the maximum of 460,000 flights no longer applies. We are disappointed by this development seeing as the regulatory scheme gave local residents clarity and certainty. https://t.co/CrrVVutITm pic.twitter.com/CAsL8UcaeW— Schiphol (@Schiphol) November 14, 2023
Previously, Schiphol proposed to address noise complaints and environmental issues by eliminating all overnight flights by 2025, and stopping all commercial passenger and cargo flight departures from midnight to 6 a.m. Only emergency landings would be allowed between midnight and 5 a.m. Additionally, most private passenger flights could be scrapped.
Those maneuvers alone would combine for a reduction of 27,000 flight movements annually.
The Dutch State owns 70 percent of the Royal Schiphol Group, and 9.3 percent of the Air France - KLM Group, which owns the two largest airlines operating at Schiphol, KLM and Transavia.