In June the Dutch province of Limburg will decide on the future of Maastricht Airport, which may result in its closure altogether. On the other hand, a participation by Schiphol Group may cement its further role as a cargo airport.
To date, the Province has no official position on the future of MST, says Provincial Executive for Economy (including Maastricht Airport) Stephan Satyn (SS). “At the moment the Province is working out four scenarios, which will be presented to the Provincial States this June,” he says.
CFG: In this respect, do the costs weigh up to the benefits, such as the economic impact for the province, its residents and its entrepreneurs?
SS: Recently, the concept version of a Social Cost-Benefit Analysis (SCBA) was presented to various parties involved. They were given the opportunity to react until 14 January. In a few weeks’ time the final report can be expected. This too will be put at the disposal of the Provincial States, to allow them to integrate the information into their decision process.
State vs province
SS: As for the contents: the main conclusion is that - on a national level - the airport presents a positive image, whereas on the regional level this is quite the opposite, as the benefits would favour the Netherlands as a whole, while the societal costs (among which is noise) would befall the regional level.”
CFG: Is it true that discussions are on-going with Schiphol Group on a possible participation?
SS: Maastricht Airport is indeed talking to Schiphol Group about further-reaching opportunities for collaboration in the future.
CFG: Is the (partial) use of the runway still an issue?
SS: Of the present 2,750 m runway 2,500 m may be used.
CFG: Is the proximity of Liege Airport part of the debate?
SS: The fact that there are other regional airports within a range of 100 to 150 km is part of the discussion on the future of the airport. Among the consequences of a closure of Maastricht Airport (scenario 4) the effects of a possible increase of Liege-bound air traffic is described.
The figures don’t add up
“This is about the (economic) value for the province vs nuisance,” says Maarten van As, Managing Director of Air Cargo Netherlands. “There is a small very ‘vocal’ group of opponents. A recent survey carried out by Nieuwsblad Transport has revealed that a ‘silent majority’ of the people in Limburg sees the advantages of the airport and wants to keep it open. On the other hand, the runway is in need of a far-going upgrade (€ 50 million) in the very near future, which would entail a considerable cost for the province.”
Mr. van As has mixed feelings about the SCBA, which has been drawn up under pressure from the opponents, he says. “If you read this very quickly closure eventually seems the most desirable option. However, we (ACN) and evofenedex (the Dutch shippers’ organisation) have put some question marks to this SCBA, supported by our view.”
In the above-mentioned analysis, the calculation is made in ‘hard’ euros, such as the renovation of the runway, but - at the same time - issues like ‘noise’ are ‘monetized’, by giving it a specific price tag. As a large amount of money has been assigned to “less noise”, we think that this has created an image that is prone to misinterpretation. It has led to a very negative sum under the finish line, because the noise factor has been over-calculated, even with less flights (one of the scenarios),” states Maarten van As.
The manager goes on to say: “We think that, at this stage of the decision-making process, the SCBA - which mentions closure as a possible scenario - is not the right tool, because of its weighing of economic matters (the hard euros) against issues of well-being (the monetizing of noise). Out-of-pocket costs such as a buy-out and the loss of employment are put against hundreds of fictitious euros of monetized noise gains. That is not realistic.”
“At the same time, Maastricht Airport and Schiphol have been negotiating on collaboration, with or without a stake-holding swap. This is a wide-ranging exploration.”
Let the national level decide
On this, ACN’s view is clear, Mr. van As concludes: “It is imperative to look at the airports in the Netherlands at a national level, which is why we welcome the interest of Schiphol, which already has stakes in Eindhoven and Rotterdam. At the moment Maastricht is still seen too much as an overflow airport for Amsterdam, even if it has a clear range of customers of its own, who are very satisfied with its quality. We have to evolve towards a ‘smart’ system in which Maastricht can act as a satellite airport, with a strength of its own.”
“Also, knowing that the demand for slots at Schiphol will always exceed the offer (in a normal, non-Corona situation) the availability of a second airport in the Netherlands is of the utmost importance.”
Maastricht Airport MD Jos Roeven reminds of the fact that this is the 3rd discussion on the airport’s future in 8 years. It started in 2014 when bankruptcy was near, became a topic again in 2019 when the concession ended and was brought up once more these days.
“Maastricht Aachen Airport is the only Dutch airport besides Schiphol that is able to offer all traffic options: cargo, passenger flights, and general aviation. Examples are flowers from Kenya, mouth masks from China or high-tech and medical equipment handled regularly at MST among other products.”
Mr. Roeven concludes that cargo traffic has developed positively over the years, and has been an important revenue driver to date.
Marcel Schoeters in Maastricht
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