The Hague is Playing Russian Roulette

The Dutch Government forced AirBridgeCargo, Singapore Airlines Cargo and other freight carriers to abandon Amsterdam Schiphol Airport by taking away some of their formerly granted slots. The politician’s decision is based on the international 80/20 rule applicable to each CAT III airport worldwide that’s fully slot coordinated and – in the case of AMS - a stiff traffic cap imposed by Schiphol’s shareholders years ago to protect neighbours from noise emissions.

The Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Development (photo) might offer ABC to take some of KLM Cargo’s slots at AMS
The Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Development (photo) might offer ABC to take some of KLM Cargo’s slots at AMS

Seen against this crystal clear legal background, the denial of slots to freight carriers by the Dutch Department of Infrastructure and Environment is in full accord with the global 80/20 regulation and the cap decision taken by Amsterdam’s stakeholders. However, many believe that the Hague’s policy to chase freight airlines out of Amsterdam is definitely not a wise move, and will hurt the airport on the long run.

In the eyes of the Kremlin the decision is not a good move. Confronted with the denial of traffic rights at AMS for Russia registered AirBridgeCargo, Moscow retaliated two days ago, threatening to close their country’s airspace for KLM overflights between Western Europe and Far East and denying the Dutch airline landing permits at Moscow and Saint Petersburg, should ABC’s traffic rights at Schiphol not be fully restored by next weekend.  
Hence, the showdown is there: On the one side, the Dutch government acting according to law, vis-à-vis their Russian counterpart trying to protect the commercial interests of their carriers.
How, when and if this conflict will be solved – if at all – is currently an open issue. At The Hague, nobody responsible for this matter was available for comment. Similarly, KLM is keeping their lips tight.

Background of the slot squeeze at AMS
Since the summer season, AMS experiences a shortage of slots. It’s a new situation in Schiphol’s history. The reason is that the airport has reached the maximum limit of 500,000 movements, that the stakeholders have agreed to back in 2008 in their so called Alders accord. Ever since, airlines were able to request slot schedules out of the non-historic slot pool, but that possibility is not available anymore, because of the constraint.
An extremely regrettable situation emphasizes the airport in a statement: “We are very sorry that some of our airlines could not maintain their entitlement to historic slots at AMS for the coming IATA winter season, and we are sad that some of these airlines are moving parts of their operation to neighbouring airports because of this.”
AMS further says: “All our airlines are important customers to us. ABC and Singapore Airlines Cargo have been a great number of years with us, and they are big and important players in the Dutch logistics industry.”

80/20 rule should be changed to 70/30
The basic problem is that all-cargo airlines have difficulties to meet the 80 percent on time demand. They often don’t fly in accord with a fixed schedule, risking delays and violations of the 80 (on time) / 20 (delays) regulation. Intercontinental freight flights are by nature less punctual than passenger flights, because in comparison the freight market is diverse. There are specific seasons for a number of products such as flowers or perishables, e-commerce is a driving force and challenging handling situations at some airports also could lead to partial impairments of cargo flights. Unlike the passenger market - which is a highly regular market dominated by return flights - cargo carriers connect cargo flows, which fly one-way only.

Greater flexibility for cargo traffic is a paramount issue
Taken these differences in passenger / cargo traffic into account, the 80/20 rule seems to be outdated and should be replaced by a 70/30 accord, argue market experts, conceding freight airlines more flexibility. 
This might be too late for solving the current traffic conflict erupted between The Hague and Moscow once and for good. However, a solution could be that AirBridgeCargo is conceded some of the slots held by AF-KL-MP up to now. Their freighter fleet is sharply reduced since 90 percent of all freight is flown in the lower deck compartments of the passenger fleet. Currently, KLM-MP is operating only 34 freighter rotations at Amsterdam each week, down substantially to former winter or summer schedules.
It’s up to the Dutch government to offer some of the KLM slots to ABC – this way burying the hatchet and restoring normal conditions in aviation between Russia and The Netherlands.

Heiner Siegmund

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