The newly formed Dutch government headed by Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, will probably have to take drastic steps to ensure that Schiphol complies with stricter environmental standards. To
reduce emissions, the total number of flights allowed each year could be reduced significantly.
While business representatives speak of foul play, environmental activists call for tougher traffic regulations. Especially for cargo carriers serving AMS, operational restrictions cannot be ruled out.
For about three years now, there have been rumblings among the cargo airlines that use AMS. This was triggered by the airport's strategic shift towards attracting low-cost carriers, driven primarily by KLM subsidiary, Transavia Airlines. This put pressure on Schiphol’s slot regime because air traffic rights are capped. A quota of half a million arrivals and departures per year is allowed, negotiated between politicians, the airport, and local residents; hence, virtually engraved in stone.
Low cost vs. cargo
As slots were exhausted, the responsible Ministry of Transportation and Water Management informed cargo airlines that they would receive fewer takeoff and landing rights because these were needed by (low-cost) newcomers. For ABC, a major SCL customer, this meant that the government coordinator reduced the granted number of slots from formerly 15 to 20 weekly, to a maximum of 10, an airline manager confirmed to CargoForwarder.
Then came the COVID-19 pandemic, with passenger traffic plummeting, sweeping the issue of slot cuts for cargo airlines off the table.
No one-size-fits-all solution in sight
At least, temporarily. Now it is right back there, standing on the agenda of the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management in the Dutch capital, The Hague. It can be expected that the political decision makers will adhere to a decree originating from 2019, despite a new government in power since last week, demanding that SCL qualifies for being admitted a “nature permit”. This guideline sharply limits the airport’s environmental impact on the surrounding communities.
Meanwhile, activists have pledged to go to court if the “nature permit” is not implemented.
For the politicians in The Hague, this translates into a severe problem. Should they oppose severe flight cuts, they will be in trouble, since doing nothing is a serious infringement of environmental commitments. In that case, it can be expected that protesters will mobilize and decide to take action. Conversely, should the slot coordinator cap traffic at 400,000 movements per year, the Dutch economy will be heavily impacted.
One way out, would be to open Lelystad Airport (LEY) for commercial traffic, located roughly 70 km northeast of Schiphol. However, it is not very likely that airlines will voluntarily shift their flights from AMS to LEY. Should the regulator cut slots at AMS, it can be assumed that they would instead prefer to transfer their operations to Brussels or Dusseldorf.
Since passenger traffic is not nearly back to old strength, the final word on Amsterdam’s perspective will probably remain open for the time being. However, The Hague cannot postpone this rather explosive issue in the long term. A fundamental solution is needed, aimed at a coexistence of traffic concerns, economic imperatives, and environmental demands.
Latecomers are facing tough times
For cargo airlines, this increases the operational risks. Those carriers, that do not adhere to their slots, but come and go as they like may be affected. They might be among the first forced to pack their bags in AMS and seek their fortune elsewhere.
This all the more so, since the European Commission has just decided to set a 64% minimum airport slot usage threshold for the Summer 2022 season. Hence, airlines operating into and out of congested EU airports can only keep their allocated slots if 64% of their flights are on time. Therefore, it can be assumed that notorious latecomers like the Russian company, Nordwind Airlines, will lose their traffic rights at Schiphol, sooner or later.
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