Who decides who flies at Amsterdam Schiphol?

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In the wake of the recent feud between The Netherlands and Russia on Schiphol slots for Russian AirBridgeCargo, it is interesting to see how the slot allocation works at the Dutch airport. That was until KLM and AirBridge Cargo (who had lost AMS slots) finally agreed to share additional slots that KLM had received, in order for the latter to continue flying over Russia.
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol is getting busier by the day. Various media have reported that the airport is responding by tightening the reigns on its allocation of landing rights and even revoking those rights. However, this is a misconception. In reality, the decision on who gets to take off and land is not up to Schiphol at all.
Singapore Airlines Airbus A350 XWB at Amsterdam Schiphol (photo NH)

In the Netherlands, ‘slots’, as they are known, are allocated by Stichting Airport Coordination Netherlands, an independent foundation also known as the slot coordinator. A slot gives an airline the right to take off or land at a particular time.

Use it or lose it

Twice a year, just ahead of the winter and summer seasons, the slot coordinator issues all the available slots in conformity with the statutory rules. The system works according to a simple principle: use it or lose it.

If an airline uses more than 80% of its allocated slots, it acquires a historic right to this set of slots and will automatically be allowed to operate its flights in the next season. And, under the rules, an airline that uses fewer than 80% of its allocated slots automatically loses them.

Fewer slots

For cargo airlines, this creates a problem. Because they have to be more flexible and therefore operate a less regular flight schedule, cargo carriers were unable to hold their historical slots. The freed up slots then become available for other airlines.

How these slots will be divided, is a decision made by the slot coordinator. The coordinator divides them on the basis of domestic and international regulations, the Worldwide Slot Guidelines (WSG) drawn up by the IATA (International Air Transport Association) and the capacity determined by Schiphol.

Until recently, the 80% rule had little impact on cargo carriers because there were always plenty of slots to go around. But now, with Schiphol nearing its capacity limit of 500,000 flights a year (until 2020), slots are becoming scarce, to the extent that there are almost none left.

Local rule

The independent slot coordinator is also in charge of the reallocation of unused slots. To solve the problem now confronting the cargo sector, the coordinator could apply what is known as a ‘local rule’. Briefly stated, this would allow airlines to be given conditional local – that is, domestic – priority in the allocation of slots.

Such a local rule must be discussed in the Coordination Committee, which represents all airlines at Schiphol. Thereafter The Ministry of Infrastructure, Mobility and Water can approve a proposal. The cargo airlines previously proposed a local rule. However, the majority of airlines were opposed to the proposal.

New proposal
Given the vital interest of air cargo operations for Mainport Schiphol and for the cargo sector labour market, former Minister for the Environment Dijksma has now asked Schiphol to present a local rule proposal backed by the Dutch aviation sector. Schiphol is currently exploring the options for such a rule.

02 November 2017

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