The Dutch government’s difficult journey towards reducing flights at Schiphol

The Dutch government is reversing its decision to reduce capacity at Schiphol by cutting flights from summer 2024, under political pressure from both sides of the Atlantic. Airlines are relieved, but the airport is disappointed.

Ambitious environmental targets for the Netherlands

At the start of the year, the Dutch government announced a number of ambitious environmental measures that would have a definite impact on Amsterdam Schiphol airport.

The plan was to cut 50,000 flights a year from next summer, representing a 10% capacity reduction for the airport.

These measures were not to the liking of the airlines, KLM in particular. Schiphol being its hub, it is of course the most affected airline. It was a subject that irritated Ben Smith to no end, as it was likely to undermine Air France-KLM’s competitiveness with its European rivals.

But discontent spread far and wide, particularly among American airlines, which saw their capacity to serve the Netherlands in particular and Europe in general reduced.

Political pressure from all sides

However concerned they may be with the ecological transition, governments have not lost their business acumen, and have shown little taste for the decision taken by their Dutch counterparts.

It began with the EU criticizing the Netherlands for not having taken a balanced approach, i.e. for not having explored ways other than flight reduction to achieve its objectives.

Initially KLM Group, Delta Air Lines, Corendon, easyJet and TUI challenged this decision in court and the response was not long in coming: it ruled in favour of the airlines on the grounds that the stakeholders had not been heard and the procedures had not been followed in the decision-making process.

A victory more in form than in substance, which merely delayed the inevitable.

Aware of the problem, the EU reminded the Dutch government on November 13 that reducing capacity was in breach of European regulations.

But the biggest reaction came from the USA, whose airlines were directly affected by the restrictions, to the extent that an airline like Jet Blue had to give up service to Amsterdam altogether.

On November 2, the US Department of Transportation announced that it considered the Dutch government’s decision to be a violation of the open skies agreement signed between the EU and the USA in 2007.

As a result, the EU could expect retaliation from the USA, in the form of slot cancellations and capacity reductions by European airlines, KLM in the first instance, to the USA.

This has certainly prompted the EU to react and ask the Netherlands to calm things down, before the logic of escalating reciprocal reprisals takes hold.

The Netherlands make a U-turn

The Dutch government has therefore announced that it is reversing its decision and will not be limiting capacity at Schiphol from next summer.

Instead, alternative measures will be put in place, such as a ban on flights between midnight and 6am, the obligation to use the quietest aircraft at certain times and a ban on private jets.

This decision is fully supported by KLM, which, even if it means new constraints for the airline, is coming out of it at a lower cost than initially planned. But, above all, it will avoid sanctions from the US government.

Schiphol is not happy

You’d think Schiphol airport would be just as relieved as KLM, but not at all. The airport management expressed its dismay and discontent.

Today it was announced that the Dutch government is suspending the Experimental Ruling. Schiphol is disappointed by the recent developments, as local residents are getting the short end of the stick. Reducing the number of flights is not a goal in itself for us, but the Experimental Ruling did provide clarity and certainty for local residents. Moreover, according to Schiphol, falling back on ‘anticipatory enforcement’ leads to more uncertainty, including for the aviation sector itself. It is time that hindrance for local residents is noticeably reduced. he importance of a night closure of Schiphol is now becoming even more imminent. This also applies to the other measures in our 8-point plan, such as the ban on private flights and the banning of the noisiest aircraft..”

Surprising, but that’s the way it is.

A reaction all the more surprising given that the airport’s owner is none other than…the government.

Bottom line

Under pressure from the USA and the EU, the Dutch government reverses its decision to limit flights at Schiphol.

This decision does not call into question the company’s environmental objectives, but it does force it to explore other ways of achieving them.

It also shows the complexity and contradictions of government policies, which on the one hand are pro-environment and on the other sanction countries that go too far in this direction if it threatens trade agreements.

Photo : Amsterdam Schiphol Airport de VanderWolf Images via Shutterstock

Bertrand Duperrin
Bertrand Duperrin
Compulsive traveler, present in the French #avgeek community since the late 2000s and passionate about (long) travel since his youth, Bertrand Duperrin co-founded Travel Guys with Olivier Delestre in March 2015.

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