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Schiphol Flight Cuts Under Scrutiny: Aviation Associations Head to Supreme Court

Protest Against Anticipated Flight Reduction at Schiphol Airport 

The International Air Transport Association (IATA), European Business Aviation Association (EBAA), and European Regions Airline Association (ERA) have expressed concern over the proposed cuts to flight numbers at Schiphol Airport.

The government plans to cut the number of flights to 460,000 per year starting in Summer 2024 and to 452,500 in Winter 2024.

UPDATE: 1 September ACI EUROPE Director General Appeals to European Commission

In a statement from Brussels, ACI EUROPE Joins Airline Associations in condemning the decision by the government of the Netherlands to force capacity limitations at Schiphol Airport through controversial noise regulation.

“ACI EUROPE today condemned the decision by the caretaker Dutch Government to pursue a capacity reduction at Amsterdam Schiphol airport to 452.500 aircraft movement as of Winter 2024 and also expressed concerns regarding the conditions under which a ‘temporary’ capacity reduction to 460.000 aircraft movement will be implemented as of Summer 2024.”

Olivier Jankovec, Director General of ACI EUROPE said: “The outcome of the Balanced Approach process for noise management conducted for the capacity reduction at Schiphol as of Winter 2024—as duly required under EU law—is just not acceptable. Indeed, the caretaker Dutch Government has not sufficiently considered proposed alternative measures that would have allowed the stated noise mitigation targets to be achieved without requiring a capacity reduction
at Schiphol. Moreover, while the decision to temporarily reduce capacity as of Summer 2024 will provide much-needed legal certainty, it has been taken without conducting the Balanced Approach process.”

He added: “These decisions are about quick political wins ahead of national elections – at the expense of the Dutch economy and jobs. We are calling upon the European Commission to urgently ensure the respect of the Balance Approach principles as per EU law.”

Statement from ACI EUROPE 1 September 2023

UPDATE: 1 September IATA Director General Willie Walsh Issues New Statement

The International Air Transport Association is disappointed by the Dutch government’s decision to reduce flights at Schiphol Airport.

“The decision of Minister Harbers to push forward with the Schiphol flight cuts shows a contempt for democratic and legal scrutiny, and a cavalier approach to the Netherlands’ treaty obligations with respect to international law. By ramming this action through in its last weeks in office, the caretaker government is hurting the Dutch economy and aviation workers without due consideration of alternatives that could reduce noise without sacrificing livelihoods. We will continue to fight this decision in the Courts, alongside and on behalf of the global airline community, travelers, and those who rely on aviation. Our opposition is not about the merits of reducing noise: airlines are determined to do so and have plans and investments in place to that effect. This is about ensuring that the lawful internationally agreed process for managing noise is adhered to, so that the benefits of aviation generated by Schiphol can be safeguarded for the people of the Netherlands as a whole,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General.

The Controversy Surrounding the ‘Experimental Regulation’ 

The Dutch government’s attempt to reduce Schiphol’s flight numbers to 460,000 annually originally faced opposition in the Dutch court.

The Dutch court had first sided with airlines, blocking the government’s new regulation. The court found the regulation was contrary to Dutch obligations under EU law and bilateral air services agreements. However, the government took matters to the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal sided with the Dutch government. This ruling has concerned the international airline community. As a result, IATA, other airline associations, and individual carriers initiated Supreme Court proceedings.

‘Experimental Regulation’ vs. ‘Balanced Approach’: Aviation Associations Tackle Noise Debate

The associations refer to the proposed flight cust as ‘Experimental Regulation.’ As an alternative, they propose an established ‘Balanced Approach.’ That is an internationally recognized noise management framework at airports. Such an approach would mean only implementing flight restrictions and cuts as a last resort. Also, the Balanced Approach would cover local community needs, benefit national air connectivity, and comply with international agreements. 

“Airlines are fully committed to addressing noise issues at airports under a proper Balanced Approach process. It is essential that any decision be postponed until a fully functioning and accountable government with a fresh mandate is in place. This unprecedented and complex proposal can then be considered carefully, with the legal questions settled and the full facts and implications understood and in the public domain, and with sufficient time for the air transport industry to adapt if necessary, when a final decision is known,” – Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General.

Schiphol Flight Cuts: Lasting Impacts

Mainly, the associations contend that forcing Schiphol flight cuts shouldn’t rely on a government that is near the end of its tenure. They argue any change with such a significant impact on the Dutch economy requires appropriate democratic review and political accountability. The current government, aviation associations claim, will not bear responsibility for the potential repercussions of these decisions. They say flight cuts could strain relations with the Netherlands’ trading partners, cause job losses, and have long-lasting economic repercussions. 

According to the associations, trying to push through the flight cuts at Schiphol: 

  • Will ignore the democratic and legal review required for a potentially economically damaging proposal.
  • The flight cuts will position the Netherlands in direct conflict with its trading partners. Partners may defend their rights under international agreements and bilateral treaties.
  • The decision could provoke the EU to defend its own laws that require strict application of the Balanced Approach.
  • Flight cuts would inflict significant damage to the Dutch economy and cost jobs.

In a few months’ time, the government will not be accountable for the severe consequences that may follow from the Schiphol decision, particularly with respect to relations with the Netherlands’ trading partners, and lost jobs and prosperity at home. — IATA

Implications of Flight Reductions at Schiphol 

Ultimately, the associations believe major flight cuts at Schiphol will negatively impact passenger and freight services. The flight cuts would lead to reduced slot holdings. They emphasize the lack of any established mechanism to authorize these cuts. They caution that rushing this plan might provoke international retaliation and additional legal issues. Other governments, they assert, will protect their rights under international agreements and bilateral treaties.

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