Last Friday, the Dutch caretaker government sent the final draft of its plan to reduce the number of flight movements at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport to the European Commission. The move has antagonized most of the national and international aviation community, including the U.S. Department of Transportation.
In the draft, the government proposes to cap the present 500,000 annual movements to 452,000 by NOV24. That's a reduction of 12,000, compared to the initially proposed limit of 440,000 flights per year.
The initiative has brought the debate on the implications of the plan back to the foreground. The aviation industry demands that the issue be declared ‘controversial’, meaning that a decision shall be postponed until the new government has been installed. Dutch national elections will be held on 22NOV23.
This concern was expressed by the Board of Airline Representatives in the Netherlands (BARIN), as well as by the cargo industry. The latter, represented by Air Cargo Netherlands, Fenex (forwarders), evofenedex (shippers), and Transport & Logistiek Nederland, sent letters to both the minister involved and the Parliament. “Is the caretaker government still planning to take a decision on this matter and govern from beyond the grave? As far as we are concerned, this does not have to be,” the letter goes. “This is, after all, a very sensitive issue involving very large interests and irreversible consequences.”
The cargo community also refers to the on-going legal action. Last March, 19 airlines went to court to challenge the flight movement reduction plan altogether. The judge ruled in favor of the claimants, a decision which was reversed by appeal. The airlines reacted by taking the case to the Supreme Court, which still has to decide on the matter.
The Dutch government feels strengthened by the fact that, in Parliament, support for the ‘controversial’ option is only found with (far)-right parties. Another party in favor of settling the matter now and not having it postponed to the new government, is Schiphol Airport.
In an interview with radio station BNR, in the margin of the airport’s 6-month results, CEO, Ruud Sondag stated that the company has roadmaps on hand to ask Brussels for a movement cap in its own right. “Schiphol is one of the few large airports in Europe that is still open at night. How ‘controversial’ are we then? We are ‘controversial’ if we do not do it.”
Such a cap is not necessary, says Marjan Rintel, Chairman of the Board of Directors of KLM, to the same radio station. “We have put forward a plan called ‘cleaner, quieter and more economical’, making clear how to achieve noise reduction in the right way. It takes into account the interests of residents, all the Dutch people wanting to travel the world, the industry, and KLM itself.”
The Dutch flag carrier may see the storm brewing now that the U.S. Department of Transportation has sent a letter to its Dutch counterpart stating that the plans are in violation of the U.S.-EU Air Transport Agreement, as they “would result in permanent confiscation of historic slot rights held by U.S. carriers, and the American government is ‘highly skeptical’ that Schiphol would allow new entrants under such circumstances.” Possible American repercussions might well jeopardize KLM’s access to the U.S.
Impacting the single market
The international interest groups, too, are highly unhappy about the caretaker government’s procedure. Ourania Georgoutsakou, Managing Director of Airlines for Europe (A4E), says that “The expected decision of the Dutch government is arbitrary, ill thought out, and undercuts the procedures normally used to assess such drastic measures. It is deeply worrying that an EU member state is acting in an unpredictable and rushed manner on something which will have massive repercussions for the Netherlands and the wider EU single market.”
IATA endorses this view: “By ramming this action through in its last weeks in office, the caretaker government is hurting the Dutch economy and aviation workers without due consideration of alternatives that could reduce noise without sacrificing livelihoods. We will continue to fight this decision in the Courts, alongside and on behalf of the global airline community, travelers, and those who rely on aviation.”
“Our opposition is not about the merits of reducing noise: airlines are determined to do so and have plans and investments in place to that effect. This is about ensuring that the lawful, internationally agreed process for managing noise is adhered to, so that the benefits of aviation generated by Schiphol can be safeguarded for the people of the Netherlands as a whole,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General.
Veteran takes the helm at Maastricht Airport
The other Dutch cargo airport, Maastricht, this week announced the nomination of Jonas van Stekelenburg as its temporary CEO, succeeding Jos Roevens. Mr. van Stekelenburg will assume the role for an initial term of 9 months, starting this month.
A trained lawyer, Stekelenburg worked for the Royal Schiphol Group from 2002 until 2018 and was appointed Director of Cargo in 2015. Since 2018, he has worked as a counselor and advisor for various companies. He joined the Board of Maastricht Airport in JAN21.
Marcel Schoeters in Amsterdam
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