Qatar Airways' CEO, Akbar Al Baker has indicated that Dutch companies face exclusion from billions of dollars worth of infrastructure developments by the Qatari government, following the decision by Dutch state secretary Wilma Mansveld to introduce a temporary ban on extra landing rights for Gulf airlines calling at Schiphol (see 25th May issue of CargoForwarder Global).
At a recent press conference in Amsterdam, Al Baker said: “If you don’t allow us to benefit in a small way by bringing us additional flights to the Netherlands, then you should not expect a lot
of commercial contracts from our government.” He added that: "With this ban, the Netherlands is constraining its own economy."
Qatar Airways is due to start a new six times a week passenger service from Doha to the Netherlands in June, but has already indicated it wants to operate a daily service and double its flights to the Netherlands as well as expand full freighter services to Schiphol.
“Mansveld is dancing to the tune of KLM,” Al Baker
In a recent interview with Dutch newspaper Het Parool, Al Baker said that following the decision by Air France, KLM and Martinair to reduce their freighter activities, "We are keen to expand our daily freighter services to twice, or even three times a day."
The report noted that Ms Mansveld decided in April not to grant any expansion of freighter services by the Gulf carriers at Schiphol, despite specific requests from Dutch export and transport organisations to allow these services.
"The Minister is dancing to the tune of KLM," noted Al Baker. "Governments must do what is in the best interest of their country. Look at France. Despite opposition from Air France, the government has expanded our landing rights."
Brushing aside denials by president François Hollande, insiders are convinced that the decision to allow Qatar Airways additional traffic rights to Lyon and Nice, are closely linked to the recent €6.3bn (US$7.02bn) sale of 24 Rafale fighter jets to the Qatari government.
Etihad is partnering with KLM
Meanwhile, the two other Gulf carriers, Etihad Airways and Emirates, which already operate services to the Netherlands, claim they have yet to be receiving any information about the Dutch ban.
An Emirates spokesperson was quoted as saying that the airline didn't receive any notifications from Dutch state secretary Wilma Mansveld. He did stress, however, that "under the UAE-Netherlands air services agreement, there are no restrictions on the number of frequencies and the size of aircraft used.”
Etihad issued a similar statement and pointed out that the airline would continue to operate a daily service between Abu Dhabi and Schiphol in partnership with KLM. "This service is complemented by our code share partner KLM’s daily operation between Amsterdam and Abu Dhabi,” said the spokesman.
Is Mansveld’s decision detrimental to KLM?
Meanwhile, critics point out that the ban is jeopardising years of promotion of free trade by the Netherlands whereby the overall economy of the country was considered to be of greater importance than just the interests of flag carrier KLM.
"It's remarkable, to say the least, that Ms Mansveld has squandered this unique Dutch liberalisation position which, ironically, KLM has promoted for many years in its own traffic rights negotiations with other countries around the world. It will have very negative consequences for Dutch trade," says one observer, adding that the ban "will certainly be used against KLM in future bilateral deals."
Sources close to the Dutch government also point out that it is unlikely that, prior to announcing the ban on the Gulf carriers Ms Mansveld has held consultations with her colleague Henk Kamp, the Dutch minister of Economic Affairs.
"It is quite possible and feasible that in view of the negative consequences for the overall Dutch economy, Kamp will try and overrule the controversial decision by Mansveld," says one source.
Many rumors are circulating
There is also speculation in The Hague that, following disappointing financial results in 2014, which resulted in internal rifts between Air France and KLM staff about allocation of finances, the ban is ultimately the result of confidential negotiations between Ms Mansveld's Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment (dealing with water policy, environment and aviation) and her counterparts in Paris.
It is speculated that Ms Mansveld, after informing Dutch parliament earlier this year that "KLM must maintain an independent position within the Air France KLM Group and... it is important that we keep a grip on the development of Schiphol and the KLM network," agreed to impose the ban ahead of official EU discussions about the subject this month, in exchange for a "hands-off KLM approach by Air France."
Nol van Fenema