Plans for flight reductions at Amsterdam-Schiphol: the debate is still open


Balancing the needs of local communities, the industry and climate targets is more than ever a challenging task, as experienced by the Dutch government in its attempt to raise the bar in favour of the environment. The government had proposed to reduce the number of flights to/from Amsterdam-Schiphol airport from 500,000 to initially 460,000 a year with the intention and expectation to arrive at 440,000 by the end of 2024 (11% less than in 2019). While welcomed by many local residents, the unprecedented initiative gave rise to much concern from the aviation sector and in particular, the affected airlines. In April, a Dutch court ruled in favour of IATA, KLM and other airlines stating that the State had not followed the correct procedure and as a result will not be allowed to reduce flights for the coming year. Shortly after, the Ministry of Infrastructure announced that it will appeal. During a EUROCONTROL webinar Lisanne van Houten, Lead Aviation and International Relations (Planned Capacity Reduction Schiphol), Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure said:

Lisanne van Houten

"The Dutch government’s decision to reduce slots at Schiphol has not been an easy one and was not taken only due to noise but due to a broader trade-off between the interests of local residents and the environment on the one hand and Schiphol’s function as aerial gateway to the world on the other hand."

Lisanne van Houten Lead Aviation and International Relations Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure

Amsterdam Schiphol Airport has an extensive international route network that connects the Netherlands to the world contributing significantly to the country’s prosperity. In 2019, on average 1,395 flights arrived/departed the airport every day leaving a significant noise impact in what is a highly urbanised area. Local residents are exposed to aircraft noise and are also concerned about the impact of air traffic and airports operations on their health, the natural environment and the climate more generally. Operating restrictions are a measure of last resort in international aviation rules. Lisanne van Houten has made it clear that the Ministry is still planning to evaluate measures based on the four Balanced Approach pillars: noise reduction at source, land-use planning and management, noise abatement operational procedures and finally noise operating restrictions. All measures have been included in the Ministry’s Balanced Approach consultation document, which was issued on 15 March. The 3-month consultation phase will run until 15 June.

ICAO’s Balanced Approach focused on aviation noise Annex 16 of the Chicago Convention contains provisions for the so-called Balanced Approach to Aircraft Noise Management which states are obligated to follow when taking measures to managing the noise impacts of aviation.

Key requirements are:

  • Consultation with affected parties
  • The use of flight reductions only as a last resort
  • Balancing the needs and concerns of local residents, the environment and the local economy for aviation’s economic and social benefits.

“The final number of flight movements is still subject to the outcome of the Balanced Approach procedure. We intend for the movement reduction to apply for five years and it is therefore a temporary solution. For the future, we are developing a norms-based system, incorporating noise and other emissions. Under this future system, there will be room for the development for the aviation industry, if and when noise nuisance and other emissions have decreased.”

Aircraft operators remain worried about the Dutch government’s plans as they see connectivity and jobs threatened and their investment in fleet renewal and other efforts for more sustainable air transport disregarded. But it is not just that airlines see instability for their planning or dropping revenues. Aviation experts from across different fields also wonder if flights that will no longer be able to take off/arrive at Schiphol will shift to other airports in the vicinity such as Rotterdam, Eindhoven, Liege or Brussels. This could reduce the airspace capacity around these neighboring airports and add additional noise to their communities. Adjusted air traffic flows would then in consequence also lead to higher CO2 emissions in the overall transport cycle.

A KLM spokesperson said: “The demand for airline tickets is not declining, people want to continue to travel. With fewer flight movements at Schiphol there is a risk that there will be more noise nuisance: if you have to perform fewer flights, you will use larger aircraft. The decision does not take into account alternative measures that have the same or even better result. It is precisely those alternatives that produce less CO2 and noise while retaining the network. So that millions of Dutch people can continue to fly from Schiphol for business, vacation, study or family visits. The Ministry's plans take insufficient account of negative consequences for travelers in the Netherlands such as more frequent transfers and longer travel time. It also creates a less attractive business climate. In addition, the draft experimentation scheme is in conflict with national and European legislation and with international treaties. We see that America, among others, is very concerned about this. We think that with fleet renewal, the purchase of SAF and operational measures we can achieve a better result.”


"We think that with fleet renewal, the purchase of SAF and operational measures we can achieve a better result"

KLM spokesperson KLM

Following the court decision that freezes the application of a flight cap for the year to come, no doubt consultations will intensify. The debate will also be fed by the latest Dutch government announcement of a separate plan to implement a CO2 ceiling at each airport in the Netherlands to guarantee the country reaches its climate goals. This CO2 emissions cap is set to apply from 2025 onwards. In an ECAC webinar held on 29 March, a representative of the Dutch government clarified that this should not be seen as an additional restriction, but simply as a means to turn the 2030 targets already set for the CO2 emissions of international aviation from the Netherlands (a reduction of at least 50% by 2050 compared to the 2005 baseline) – into binding and enforceable regulatory limits.

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