The Dutch government wants to limit flights to 440,000 per year at Amsterdam Schiphol airport (against a capacity of 500,000 flights per year before the crisis) in order to fight “noise pollution as a priority”. This decision prompted an immediate bitter response from the airport management itself, and from its largest user, flagship carrier KLM.
The government explained in a press release that it was “prioritising noise pollution“, while recognising “a difficult message for the aviation sector“. The reduction in aircraft movements, which should be introduced from November next year, will also lead to “less noise pollution and less CO2, nitrogen emissions“, the government said in a letter to Parliament. It clarified, however, that the reduction of nitrogen emissions was “not the reason for this decision“.
Shrinking Schiphol highly detrimental and not in line with coalition agreement, says KLM
- KLM and the Dutch government both support greater sustainability in air transport
- KLM is surprised by the government’s sudden resolve to substantially cut back operations at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol
- The proposed cutback is not in line with the coalition agreement between the ruling parties
- This strongly undermines the hub function that KLM and Schiphol have jointly developed
- The cutback will not have the desired effect in terms of local residents affected by noise nuisance. Fewer aircraft movements will see more people affected by noise
- This move will not resolve the issue of high nitrogen deposits in the Netherlands, because air transport only accounts for around 1% of all nitrogen deposition
The Dutch government’s decision to cut back operations at Schiphol will have dramatic consequences for KLM and for the accessibility of the Netherlands, and will not achieve the desired benefits for our climate and quality of life. The decision is in conflict with the government’s coalition agreement in three different ways: it does not tally with the desire to retain a strong hub function for our national economy; it does not support stable and predictable national enterprise, and it fails to improve quality of life and climate.
KLM is investing millions in a more sustainable fleet, thereby fulfilling its agreements with the government. These are long-term investments, which means we need to be assured of stability in policy. The government projected a future with 540,000 aircraft movements. Cutting back to 440,000 amounts to a 20% reduction. These cutbacks are announced without prior deliberation and proper argumentation. Apart from today’s announcement, KLM has not received any written notification or clear plans. KLM looks forward to receiving further details and will, in the meantime, consider what steps it may take in response.
KLM’s network connects the Netherlands with almost all of the world’s key economic centres. This is important because the Netherlands is an international trading nation and because accessibility is a deciding factor for international corporations that establish offices in Europe. That is why the government stressed the importance of a strong hub function in its coalition agreement and has supported KLM with loans during the coronavirus pandemic, thereby confirming the importance of the KLM network for the Dutch economy. The proposed major cutbacks in aircraft movements undermine the hub function.
Global demand for mobility remains unchanged and continues to develop. People wish to keep flying to places that are not yet (swiftly or easily) accessible by car or train. If KLM has to reduce the number of flights, travellers will opt for other (less efficient) routes to the same destination. The environmental impact will remain the same. KLM urges the government to take measures that will effectively improve sustainability, such as supporting the production of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) and the realisation of a Single European Sky that would reduce CO2 emissions by 10%.
The coalition agreement also states that the cabinet wants to offer “a stable and predictable climate for enterprise” and will strive to “reduce the negative impact of air transport on people, the environment and nature”. Shrinking Schiphol will have the opposite effect. International corporations will turn their backs on the Netherlands. Traffic flows will seek new routes, generating the same or more CO2 emissions. Furthermore, this will not solve the Dutch nitrogen deposition problem, because air transport accounts for only 1% of nitrogen deposited.
This decision also marks a return to the old system of noise measurement, which is based on a network of measurement points, which each have a total noise limit. As soon as this limit is reached, airlines must switch to a different runway, which means they will overfly areas where more inhabitants are affected by noise. More use will have to be made of runways with more people living under their flight paths (the Buitenveldert and Zwanenburg Runways), thereby ensuring that operations remain within the stipulated limits. Even with fewer aircraft movements, more people living in the vicinity of Schiphol will suffer noise nuisance. This is, of course, totally illogical.
About the KLM network
The KLM network depends on the number of destinations we serve coupled with the flight frequencies we operate. This is because KLM and its partner airlines offer logical connections between destinations through a hub-and-spoke system operating out of Schiphol. Each flight that is cancelled has consequences for passengers arriving for connecting flights. In other words, operating fewer flights also means offering fewer logical connections. Consequently, flights cannot be optimally booked and operations become less profitable. The frequencies offered and the number of destinations (often smaller) will decrease. Shrinking, therefore, impacts KLM disproportionately hard and significantly erodes its hub function.
If KLM is compelled to relinquish slots, it will have to say goodbye to its smaller aircraft to subsequently focus on “more significant” European traffic flows operating its bigger aircraft at a lower frequency. Other destinations will then disappear from the network. KLM’s intricately connected network – currently serving 170 destinations – will then no longer be tenable. And this outcome will take shape quickly.
Amstelveen, 24 June 2022
Schiphol’s initial response to cabinet announcement
Schiphol’s mission is to connect the Netherlands with the world and at the same time to accelerate the reduction of our impact on the environment and climate. Schiphol is not aiming for growth for the sake of growth, nor for contraction for the sake of contraction.
We are in favour of a well-thought-out approach that leads to the intended goal: connecting the Netherlands with the world as an increasingly quieter and cleaner Schiphol. This provides certainty and perspective for all stakeholders involved – local residents, governments and the aviation sector. We will continue to invest in that balance. This approach includes a nature permit and an airport traffic decree (‘luchthavenverkeersbesluit’) , which is currently being worked on.
Together with the airlines, we will consult with the cabinet to contribute to such a well-thought-out approach. The plans of the cabinet as presented now lead to great uncertainty and much remains unclear. We see that major risks are being taken with regard to the quality of the network. There is also the risk that going back to the old noise system would mean a shift in noise nuisance that would not be beneficial to the surrounding communities.
It is disappointing that, contrary to the ambition expressed in the coalition agreement, a decision about Lelystad Airport (*) will not be made until 2024. We hope this can be done sooner.
24 June 2022
(*) Lelystad Airport is an airport 6.5 km south southeast of the city of Lelystad in Flevoland, The Netherlands. It is the biggest general aviation airport in the Netherlands. Schiphol Group became the owner of the airport in 1993. After some construction work, the airport could serve to alleviate traffic from Schiphol.
ACI EUROPE reacted with dismay at the decision of the Dutch Government today to drastically reduce the capacity at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol.
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol connects the Netherlands to the world. Along with KLM in particular and many other airlines, the airport has established strong hub operations, delivering air connectivity at levels and of quality that are well beyond that which a country the size of the Netherlands would normally attract.
Based on ACI EUROPE’s just released Airport Industry Connectivity Report 2022, Amsterdam Airport Schiphol this year ranks as number one in Europe in terms of direct air connectivity, and number 3 (just behind Frankfurt and Istanbul) for hub connectivity levels. At the same time, Amsterdam Airport Schiphol is a leader in sustainability – not only committed but working hard to reduce the environmental footprint of the airport and its operations, striving to become a zero-emission airport.
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol’s air connectivity is a massive benefit to the Netherlands at various levels. Of course, this is about creating and supporting economic activity and jobs and thus livelihoods, as it is an essential factor in the attractiveness of the Netherlands as a place to do business. But it also contributes to the standing of the country and its soft power.
Olivier Jankovec, Director General of ACI EUROPE commented: “In so many ways, Amsterdam Airport Schiphol is what makes the Netherlands bigger than it is. From that standpoint, there is no doubt that the decision of the Government to significantly reduce the capacity of the airport will make the Netherlands smaller.”
Schiphol Flight Restrictions Throttling Air Connectivity Benefits in the Netherlands
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) expressed shock at the announcement by the government of the Netherlands will cut the number of annual flights at Schiphol Airport to 440,000 – a 20% cut to Schiphol’s potential cap.
“This sudden decision is a shocking blow to aviation, jobs, and the economy of the Netherlands. It comes on top of a tripling of the passenger tax, and a 37% rise in airport charges. We are seeing a throttling of air connectivity which has been steadily built up for 100 years, and supported large parts of the Dutch economy and the aspirations of millions of Dutch travellers,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General.
The justification put forward for the cut is not supported by facts. The government claims that the cuts will reduce noise and deliver a significant reduction in NOx emissions. But aviation’s NOx contribution is around 1% of total NOx deposition in the Netherlands, and the redistributed noise paths that are also a part of this initiative will actually increase the number of people exposed to aircraft noise.
Prior to the pandemic, aviation supported more than 300,000 jobs and €22 billion in GDP to the economy of the Netherlands. Key to this economic contribution was the connectivity driven by Schiphol’s global hub airport role. In 2019, Amsterdam was the third-best internationally connected city in Europe, behind only London and Paris.
“When governments shut down aviation in the pandemic, we all saw the terrible impact that it had on people in the Netherlands and its economy. Downsizing Schiphol will permanently destroy jobs that are only now recovering. Moreover, without the possibility to grow at Schiphol, businesses in the Netherlands will need to evaluate their future in an economy that will be moving from global gateway to regional centre,” said Walsh.
Schiphol has been recovering fast since the end of pandemic restrictions. The airport has already had over 280,000 movements this year, putting it on track to reach its existing 500,000 movement limit. The previous Dutch government, recognizing the economic importance of Schiphol’s hub connections, set out a pathway for Schiphol to grow to 540,000 movements. The sudden announcement of a cut to 440,000 movements thus constitutes a 20% cut to the potential connectivity of the airport.
On sustainable aviation, the industry has committed to reaching net-zero CO2 by 2050. Delivering this tough goal will require a huge investment in sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) and cleaner, quieter aircraft. KLM’s commitment to SAF, for example, is directly encouraging suppliers to increase production. But these investments can only be maximized if carriers are operating in a stable regulatory business environment. Overnight changes to the rules of the game by governments are counterproductive to investment in a more sustainable industry, nor do they create any environmental gain when passengers keen to fly will travel to alternative airports to do so.
“After two years of restrictions, the world is getting moving again. Schiphol has been struggling to cope with demand, which shows how important the airport is, not just to Dutch travellers, but as a strategic hub for the Netherlands. This crazy decision to cut the airport off at its knees will achieve none of the stated environmental aims, but it will cause irreparable harm to jobs and prosperity. The government should reverse course and set out a meaningful pathway for the sustainable growth of aviation in the Netherlands, focused on delivering sustainable aviation fuels and helping the industry meet its commitment to achieving net-zero CO2 by 2050,” said Walsh.