Airlines have welcomed the ruling by a Dutch court on Wednesday that the government cannot impose a stricter cap on the number of flights at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport with the start of next winter’s schedule. The major Northern European hub now may handle 500,000 flights annually, but authorities in the Netherlands in February decided to curtail its capacity to 440,000 annual movements to reduce noise levels in two steps. In the first step, the government sought to introduce a temporary arrangement to reduce the number of annual flights to 440,000 from November.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA), Airlines for America, and several carriers that fly into Schiphol—including Air Canada, United Airlines, FedEx, JetBlue, British Airways, Vueling, and Lufthansa—launched legal action to halt the application of this so-called experimental regulation. KLM and other carriers based at the airport lodged similar legal action, arguing that airlines structure their operations for the long term and that the Dutch authorities did not follow the procedure prescribed by EU law.
According to European rules, the state may reduce the number of air transport movements of an airport only after completing a careful process. The “balanced approach” requires the state to identify measures that may reduce the noise and to consult all interested parties. Reducing the number of air transport movements is allowed only once other measures to curtail noise have proven insufficient.
The North-Holland District Court today ruled in preliminary relief proceedings that the Dutch state did not follow the correct EU procedure. “As a result of this decision, Schiphol may not reduce the maximum number of flights to 460,000 for the coming season,” it concluded.
“This case has been about upholding the law and international obligations,” commented IATA director general Willie Walsh. “The judge has understood that the Dutch government violated its obligations in shortcutting processes that would bring scrutiny to its desire to cut flight numbers at Schiphol.”
“Winning this vital reprieve is good news for Schiphol’s passengers, Dutch businesses, the Dutch economy, and airlines,” he said. Walsh warned, however, that “the job is not done. The threat of flight cuts at Schiphol remains very real and is still the stated policy of the government.”
Moreover, the Schiphol Airport on Tuesday announced its own plans to reduce noise and carbon dioxide emissions “no later than 2025-2026.” Aircraft may not take off between midnight and 6:00 a.m. and land between midnight and 5:00 a.m., and the reallocation of flights to the very start or very end of the night/early morning will be limited. The plans also call for a “stricter” approach regarding noisier aircraft by gradually tightening existing standards for aircraft that operate at Schiphol as well as a ban on private jets. The project for an additional runway is being scrapped.
Royal Schiphol Group, the operator of Amsterdam Schiphol airport, maintained that it seeks to introduce a system that focuses on the structural reduction of noise and CO2 emissions in line with the Paris climate agreement, and not on the number of air transport movements. In reality, however, the system will lead to a reduction in the number of flights. The night curfew means 10,000 fewer night flights each year and business jets account for some 16,500 annual movements.
“Schiphol connects the Netherlands with the rest of the world,” said Royal Schiphol Group CEO Ruud Sondag. “We want to keep doing that, but we must do it better. The only way forward is to become quieter and cleaner more rapidly.”
KLM said it was “astonished” that Schiphol is unilaterally putting forward proposals that would have far-reaching consequences for airlines. “We will revisit Schiphol’s proposals at a later date in the course of the European Union’s Balanced Approach procedure,” it concluded.