Amsterdam Airport Schiphol in the Netherlands has announced plans to implement a raft of measures that would help make the airport “quieter, cleaner and better”, including banning private jets and night-time take-offs and landings. However, following legal challenges lodged by IATA, KLM and other airlines, the Dutch government has halted the ‘experimental regulation’.
The ‘experimental regulation’ would cut Schiphol Airport’s flight limit to 460,000 from November 2023 but a judge has ruled that the state did not follow the correct procedure in introducing the proposed temporary regulation. According to European rules, the state can only reduce the number of aircraft movements at an airport after identifying various noise pollution reduction measures and consulting all interested parties, and if it is clear that the noise reduction measures would be inadequate.
The interim injunction judge noted that the state had started that procedure for the proposed reduction of the number of aircraft movements to 440,000 per year starting in the 2024/2025 season. However, the state did not follow this procedure for the proposed reduction in the maximum number of allowed aircraft movements to 460,000 for the 2023/2024 season. Therefore, the ruling states that the Dutch state may not reduce the number of aircraft movements at Schiphol from 500,000 to 460,000 for the upcoming 2023/2024 season.
Assuming the state does not appeal the decision in time, Schiphol’s flight limit will remain at 500,000 for the winter 2023-2024 season. The plaintiffs’ attention now moves to the consultation which has begun on limiting Schiphol on a permanent basis to 440,000 flights from 2024 onwards.
Schiphol’s plans focused on the structural reduction of noise and CO2 emissions in line with the Paris climate agreement, and not on the number of air transportation movements. The airport intends for these three measures to be applied no later than 2025-2026. According to current models, the number of people around Schiphol experiencing severe nuisance would be reduced by approximately 17,500 (16%) and the number of local residents experiencing severe sleep disturbance would fall by approximately 13,000 (54%).
To reduce noise and CO2 emissions, Schiphol Airport also wants no aircraft to take off between 00:00am and 06:00am and no aircraft to land between 00:00am and 05:00am; and has said that it does not want a second Kaagbaan Runway and that private jets and the noisiest aircraft will “no longer be welcome”.
The night-time flight ban would have meant 10,000 fewer night flights each year. The airport also wants to limit the reallocation of flights to the very start or very end of the night/early morning as much as possible. In order to reduce noise nuisance, Schiphol wants to take a stricter approach regarding noisier aircraft by gradually tightening existing standards for aircraft that are allowed to take off from and land at Schiphol.
Alongside this, Schiphol wants a ban on private jets and small business aviation, which reportedly cause a disproportionate amount of noise nuisance and CO2 emissions per passenger (around 20 times more CO2 compared to a commercial flight). The airport found that approximately 30% to 50% of these private jet flights were to holiday destinations like Ibiza, Cannes and Innsbruck. It subsequently reasoned that sufficient scheduled services are available to the most popular destinations flown to by private jets. Capacity for social traffic like police and ambulance flights would have remained unchanged with the airport’s attempted sustainability measures.
Schiphol also wants to abandon plans for an additional runway – the parallel Kaagbaan Runway – and asked the government to revoke the reservation. Land for this runway had been reserved at Rozenburg, Rijsenhout and Schiphol-Rijk and this reservation, according to the airport, put unnecessary pressure on the already scarce space in the area. For the area to the southeast of Schiphol, which may have benefitted from the construction of an additional runway when it comes to noise nuisance, the airport intends to implement the Minder Hinder (Less Nuisance) program.
Together with central government, Schiphol plans to set up an environmental fund for the local area. Between now and 2030, Schiphol intends to make available a total of €70m (US$76.3m) – in annual installments of €10m (US$10.9m) – so that investments can be made in construction concepts, home insulation and area development for an improved living environment.
Schiphol also wants to safeguard cargo by keeping 2.5% of the available take-off and landing slots available for cargo. Due to international slot regulations, cargo flights are currently struggling to keep their slots at Schiphol. Cargo provides relatively high employment opportunities and is valuable for the economy and business climate. However, cargo flights will have to adhere to new, tighter rules for noisier aircraft and the new night closure will also apply to cargo.
The airport’s announcement also highlighted its staff, and set out to improve working conditions and make the airport less focused on minimizing costs. The social agreement reached with the unions was a first step. Schiphol reported that it was committed to better pay in all sectors; better protection of employees against emissions; less competition in the handling sector; and an improvement in working conditions for all (baggage) handing employees.
Ruud Sondag, CEO of Royal Schiphol Group, said, “Schiphol connects the Netherlands with the rest of the world. We want to keep doing that, but we must do it better. The only way forward is to become quieter and cleaner more rapidly. We have thought about growth but too little about its impact for too long. We need to be sustainable for our employees, the local environment and the world. I realize that our choices may have significant implications for the aviation industry, but they are necessary. This shows we mean business. It is the only way, based on concrete measures, to regain the trust of employees, passengers, neighbors, politics and society.”
In the wake of the court’s ruling, Willie Walsh, director general of IATA, commented, “We welcome the judge’s decision. 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.”
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