Dutch government backs down on Schiphol flight cuts

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The Dutch government has backed down on its plans to cut the number of flights at Schiphol Airport after objections from the US and European Union.

In August, the government announced that it would implement plans to cut flight numbers at the airport from 500,000 per year to 452,500 from winter 2024, as it looks to reduce noise pollution at the Dutch hub as part of an “experimental scheme”.

It also cut the number of night flights at the airport from 32,000 to 28,700 annually and required use of quieter aircraft at night. The goal was to cut noise pollution by 15%. 

However, the Dutch minister of infrastructure and water management Mark Harbers this week said the government had decided to back down after the US and European Commission objections.

The Commission and US said that the plan did not follow the “balanced approach” process where states must identify various measures that can reduce noise pollution, consult all interested parties, and a reduction in the number of aircraft movements is only allowed if it is clear that other measures to limit noise pollution are insufficient.

At the start of November the US Department of Transportation issued an order indicating that they viewed the planned reduction without following the balanced approach procedure, as a violation of EU rules and US-EU Air Transport Agreement from 2007.

“In the eyes of the US, the capacity reduction would be unjust, discriminatory and anti-competitive for airlines,” Harbers wrote in a letter.

It was expected that the US would pursue counter measures that would have reduced Dutch airlines’ access to the US.

 The European Commission had also written to the Dutch the government over the failure to follow the balanced approach.

“This letter states that the European Commission expressly reserves the right to start infringement proceedings against the Netherlands in the next infringement round, due to, in her view, non-compliance with European regulations,” said Harbers.

Harbers said that the government would suspend the flight cuts until the Supreme Court has ruled in the cassation procedure, not expected until the second quarter of next year.

He added that the government would also continue to look at obtaining flight cuts through the balanced approach procedure.

Airlines and industry associations had also started cassation proceedings against the the Amsterdam Court of Appeal, which in July overturned a decision to block the flight reductions.

KLM welcomed the news and said that it would pursue other options to reduce the noise impact of its operations.

“KLM is satisfied that the Dutch government has decided to suspend the experimental rule for next year,” the Dutch carrier said.

“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 carrier said that it has accelerated its long-term, multi-billion euro investment plan in fleet renewal and in the use of sustainable aviation fuel and said that since the 2000s it has already reduced its noise emissions by 40%.

Airlines for America said: “Today’s announcement that the Dutch government will suspend their plan to reduce flights in and out of Schiphol Airport for the Summer 2024 season is welcomed news.

“We are grateful to the U.S. government, particularly the Department of Transportation, for listening to the aviation industry’s concerns and issuing a very strong order outlining the violations of the U.S.-EU Air Transport Agreement.

“This order and subsequent government-to-government discussions held this week with the Dutch and EU were instrumental to persuading the Dutch government to this successful outcome.”

Schiphol Airport, however, said it was disappointed by the recent developments, as local residents have no clarity or certainty.

“The importance of a night closure of Schiphol is now becoming even more imminent,” the airport said. “This also applies to the other measures in our eight-point plan, such as the ban on private flights and the banning of the noisiest aircraft.”

Aviation groups hit out as Dutch government pushes ahead with Schiphol flight cuts

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Damian Brett

Damian Brett
I have been writing about the freight and logistics industry since 2007 when I joined International Freighting Weekly to cover the shipping sector.After a stint in PR, I have gone on to work for Containerisation International and Lloyds List - where I was editor of container shipping - before joining Air Cargo News in 2015.Contact me on [email protected]