Presently, there is no intention to re-grant Maastricht Airport (MST) the full use of its 2,750 m runway, nor to lift its night flight ban. This was made clear by the outgoing Dutch minister of Transport, Cora van Nieuwenhuizen, in a response to a letter sent by MP Remco Dijkstra on the future of the airport.
Earlier this year, a report on the future of Maastricht Airport, ordered by the Province of Limburg (the owner of the airport), was delivered by Mr Pieter van Geel, a former secretary of state.
Mr van Geel’s advice is to maintain MST as a ‘relatively small, high-quality airport ‘focusing on intercontinental cargo traffic’.
Not only does the advice exclude passenger traffic, it also pleads for the lifting of the current 2,500 m runway use limitation. Somewhat contradictory to his eventual advice, however, Mr van Geel has also suggested extending the already rigid night flight ban between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. to 7 a.m.
What about Intra-European cargo traffic?
Referring to an article on the report in Nieuwsblad Transport, which the minister claims to have read, Mr Dijkstra asked why Maastricht would be suitable for intercontinental air cargo only: “Wouldn’t intra-European cargo flights be possible as well?”
According to Ms van Nieuwenhuizen, in pre-corona times Maastricht could claim both intercontinental and continental cargo flights: “The main origins/destinations were Africa and the Middle East. One of the questions to be answered by the Province of Limburg, is if MST is to maintain its present mix of cargo and passenger operations or focus on cargo only.”
Responding to Mr Dijkstra’s question on how long it would take before the runway would be used at full length, Ms van Nieuwenhuizen reminded him that the Second Chamber had been informed earlier that the procedure allowing the full-length use of the runway had not been continued.
“The most important reason given by the Province of Limburg was that the development of the airport over the last few years was different from what had been forecast when the airport policy was first defined, and that the business case supporting this was no longer feasible.”
Referring to the assessment of some 300,000 tons/year by 2030 for MST put forward in Mr van Geel’s report, Mr Dijkstra asked if there was sufficient enthusiasm in this respect. “Forecasts made by IATA and Schiphol suggest a demand for only 175,000 and 130,000 tons respectively.”
To this, the minister replied: “In his advice, and based on dedicated research, Mr van Geel has given the assumption for a range of between 200,000 to 290,000 tons by 2030 (111,000 tons in 2019),”
Night closure vs 24 operation at LGG
As to the tightening of the night operations, Mr Dijkstra wonders how this would fit into creating a level playing field and enhancing competition for MST compared with nearby Liège Airport.
Cora van Nieuwenhuizen stated: “Based on the current operating license, MST is closed during the night, contrary to LGG which has a 24-hour regime. For MST, this decision was made in the past to reduce noise pollution and sleep deprivation for the nearby residents. Within this light and given the efforts by the government to reduce the number of night operations on the Dutch airports, it is undesirable to lift the night flight ban for MST.”
Both Ms van Nieuwenhuizen and Mr Dijkstra are members of the liberal party VVD, which is currently taking the lead in the formation of a new government. It remains to be seen what view the new, more right-wing Parliament will take on the aviation policy in the Netherlands.
Stricter night regime at SPL as well
For Schiphol, too, legislation is being prepared to reduce the number of night operations and the number of slots concerned from the present 32,000 to 29,000. So far, this has not yet raised the alarm within the air cargo community, maybe because Schiphol does not have an express home carrier. Many operations early in the morning and late at night are performed by holiday carriers.
Their main concern remains the preservation and/or reservation of dedicated slots for freighters. In a recent radio interview, Air Cargo Netherlands Director, Maarten van As, repeated an earlier call for 12,000 flights a year. He added that, over the years, growing demand would create the need for 17,000 at the least. “So, at a later stage, we would have to discuss the ways to cope with this future growth,” he said.
According to Mr van As, aviation is included in the wider policy package that is the base for the negotiations of the new Dutch government. Even then, the air cargo industry hopes that the air cargo baby will not be thrown out with the bath water while trying to tackle nuisance merely caused by tourist flights.
Marcel Schoeters in Maastricht
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