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Mixed Response As Dutch Government Reverses Schiphol Flight Restrictions

This Tuesday, the Dutch government delayed its experimental rule restricting flights at Schiphol Airport for next summer. While this is a welcome announcement for airlines, Schiphol raised concerns that the decision leads to “uncertainty.”

Schiphol airport. The dutch government reverses Schiphol flight restrictions.
Nederland, Schiphol, 10-10-2019 – Fotografie voor Schiphol in de herfst – PHOTO AND COPYRIGHT ROGER CREMERS

In a letter to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management, Mark Harbers, explains:

“I have unfortunately had to decide to suspend track 1 of the Schiphol Main Lines Decree. Following the position of the European Commission, I have had to make a new assessment. The suspension means that anticipatory enforcement will not be terminated as of March 31, 2024, and the experimental scheme will not come into effect from this date. However, I will continue to hold firm and continue to work on the goal of the Outline Decree, including via track 2 (balanced approach procedure).”

Harbers cites legal proceedings initiated by KLM and IATA, strong opposition by the U.S. and Canada, and finally, a letter from the European Commission advising that the experimental rule (track 1) did not comply with European regulations.

“With the European Commission’s position that continuing track 1 without following the balanced approach procedure is not expected to be in line with European law, The Netherlands will also be isolated. Based on this position, the cabinet has decided to suspend track 1, at least until the Supreme Court has ruled in the cassation proceedings.”

The Supreme Court ruling may come around the second quarter of 2024. However, there is no guarantee that the Supreme Court would approve the track 1 measures either. A previous lower court ruling in May of this year went against track 1. An appeals court in Amsterdam later reversed that.

KLM: Reversal of Schiphol Flight Restrictions is an Important Step to Prevent Retaliation

In a statement, KLM expressed satisfaction with the Dutch government’s decision to suspend the experimental rule for next year.

“It is an important step to prevent retaliation and to continue flying to the US. In addition, the European Commission has sent a clear signal to go through a careful legal process according to the balanced approach,” the airline stated.

“We have agreed to a number of announced measures, such as the cleaner, quieter, and more economical plan, to accelerate the reduction of noise pollution. KLM shares the government’s environmental concerns and is fully committed to reducing its environmental footprint. Air France-KLM has accelerated its long-term, multi-billion euro investment plan in fleet renewal and in the use of sustainable aviation fuel. In the coming months, KLM and Transavia will receive their first Airbus A320neo family aircraft, with a noise footprint reduced by 33% on average. Since the year 2000s, the Group has already reduced its noise emissions by 40%.”

Schiphol: Experimental Ruling Provided Clarity and Certainty

For its part, Schiphol said it was “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. The 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.

A4A Airlines For America Welcomes Reversal of Schiphol Flight Restrictions 

Airlines for America, representing several U.S. airlines affected by the flight restrictions, including Delta and JetBlue, counted the decision as a win for U.S. diplomacy.

“[The] announcement that the Dutch government will suspend their plan to reduce flights in and out of Schiphol Airport for the Summer 2024 season is welcomed news. We are grateful to the U.S. government, particularly the Department of Transportation, for listening to the aviation industry’s concerns and issuing a very strong order outlining the violations of the U.S.-EU Air Transport Agreement. This order and subsequent government-to-government discussions held this week with the Dutch and EU were instrumental to persuading the Dutch government to this successful outcome.

“A4A remains committed to addressing both the needs of passengers and shippers while continuing to focus on reaching aviation’s global climate goals, including reducing noise pollution. U.S. airlines are continuously investing in more fuel-efficient aircraft and engines, developing sustainable aviation fuel and implementing more efficient procedures – both in-flight and on the ground.”

A Bitter Pill For The Environment

Harbers describes the decision as “a bitter pill.”

“Suspending anticipatory enforcement and the experimental scheme (track 1) is a bitter pill for the environment. This decision was taken after a renewed assessment of the interplay between the ongoing cassation appeal and the possible infringement proceedings. I emphasize that the government is committed to restoring the balance between Schiphol and its living environment. This remains an urgent task for which we remain committed.”

However, airlines and Schiphol have plans in place through the track 2 balanced approach to reduce noise, which was the original intent of the regulation. Airlines will also operate a larger share of modern aircraft to reduce CO2 emissions.

Mark Harbers Letter to Speaker on Schiphol Flight Restrictions (Original Dutch)

Mark Harbers Letter to Speaker on Schiphol Flight Restrictions (Google Translate)

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