The Hague had recently decreed to reduce the annual number of flight movements at Schiphol Airport from 500,000 to 440,000 from NOV23 onwards. Now, the competent court ruled that the State had not followed the correct procedure in introducing the proposed temporary regulation, and annulled the decision, referring to overriding European rules. Accordingly, an EU State can only reduce the number of aircraft movements at an airport after going through a careful process. The court argued that the Ministry had not followed the ‘balanced approach’ procedure as requested by the European legislation.
The lawsuit was filed by KLM and a few leisure airlines, supported by IATA, who opposed the curtailing of operations. The European rules require that all parties concerned be heard, the measures
against noise pollution be mapped, and that it be demonstrated that these measures do not bear fruit.
Upholding the law and safe-guarding stability
In a first reaction, the airline lobby organization, IATA warmly welcomed the court’s ruling. Its Director General, Willie Walsh said: “This case has been about upholding the law and international obligations. The judge has understood that the Dutch government violated its obligations in shortcutting processes that would bring scrutiny to its desire to cut flight numbers at Schiphol. This decision gives vital stability for this year to the airlines using Schiphol airport, and maintains the choice and connectivity passengers value.”
The threat of flight cuts remains
The official went on to say: “Winning this vital reprieve is good news for Schiphol’s passengers, Dutch businesses, the Dutch economy and airlines. But the job is not done. The threat of flight cuts at Schiphol remains very real and is still the stated policy of the government.” He indirectly referred to a new advance of the Dutch government which has launched a new procedure in line with European rules, aimed at cutting movements from 500,000 to 440,000 as originally intended. This ought to happen in 2024/2025.
“It has not yet been notified to the European Commission, while a lead time of between 9 and 12 month is needed,” says Managing Director, Maarten van As of Air Cargo Netherlands (ACN).
Cargo at risk
Aside from the dispute about flight movements, it is the night ban and the targeting of noisy aircraft that have taken the cargo industry completely by surprise, says Mr van As. “The plan for the reduction of the number of movements led to a lot of concertation with the industry and was followed, two weeks ago, by the lawsuit. So, in this context, it is rather bizarre (this word has been used quite a lot over the past hours!) [that] Schiphol comes forward with an action plan 2 days before the ruling, without any concertation with its users.”
“The industry, both passengers and cargo, is really pissed-off, because we had to learn this through the media. It has led to a lot of unrest, not only with the companies, but at the international headquarters as well. The reliability of Schiphol is at stake, here. We see this as shots across the bow. No clarification has been given on the organization of the night ban, nor on the type of aircraft considered as too noisy.”
When CFG asked for a reaction from Schiphol Group, the press department referred to the comment that CEO, Ruud Sondag had given to the Dutch daily press: “Cargo deserves to be better protected because of its economic importance and the 20,000 people working in it. We want to reserve 2.5% of all flights for cargo flights, lest they be squeezed out by the passenger flights. For this, we need the support of both the cabinet and Brussels, as the ruling is quite complicated at the moment.”
According to Mr van As, a night ban will have far-reaching consequences for the integrators and a number of cargo airlines at Schiphol. “A reservation of 2.5% of the slots for cargo flights is not sufficient to keep Schiphol attractive for the air cargo industry as an important cargo hub.”
Heiner Siegmund & Marcel Schoeters
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