Dutch shippers up in arms as Schiphol plans to cut 60,000 flights a year

Source: The Loadstar
Date: 27th September 2022

Air freight must be made an exception to plans by the Dutch government to cut the maximum number of flights permitted at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport from 500,000 to 440,000 a year.

Dutch shippers’ council has warned that otherwise, the cut, scheduled to begin 1 November next year, will result in a further reduction in available capacity.

Claimed to be a first for airports in terms of putting the climate before economic growth, the reduction in flights at Schiphol was announced in June and would represents an 11% decrease compared with pre-pandemic numbers.

It is designed to achieve “a new balance between the economic importance of the airport and the importance of a good quality of life for people living in the area”, a government spokesperson told The Loadstar.

“One of the steps the government needs to take is in Brussels [the EU], specifically on the ‘Balanced Approach’ procedure – it needs to show why the capacity is being restricted, in this case, the reduction of noise pollution.

“We expect the consultations with the EC, Schiphol and the airlines, among others, to take at least nine months.

“In the Balanced Approach procedure, we will outline how the government weighs the impact of various noise reduction methods, and why the decision was made to re-balance the trade-off between environmental aspects and the hub function.”

Few would argue that the move by the Dutch government, which is a majority stakeholder in Schiphol, will not reduce noise and nitrogen oxide pollution (NOx). However, many in the aviation industry, including air freight, argue there is a smarter way, regarding the protection of the environment, notably by putting the onus on airlines to meet individual green goals, such as operating cleaner aircraft, using carbon offsets, developing sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) and making better use of airport infrastructure.

Under the Dutch government’s proposals, Schiphol will have to axe 60,000 flight movements, with the curtailment of slots affecting each airline proportionally.

“Although cargo flights account for as little 2.5% to 3% of total flights at Schiphol, this move will further erode its position as a key European import and export hub for high-value and time-sensitive goods,” an air freight policy manager told The Loadstar.

“We’ve been arguing for some time that we need a separate slot pool for cargo flights where operators can compete with each one another fairly and factors such as quality and sustainability are taken into account. This would keep the number of cargo flights at the right level and ensure they don’t get pushed out by passenger flights.

“This is somewhat ground-breaking in the sense that no other airport is moving in this direction. It is not clear whether separate slot pools are allowed as the current system is completely non-discriminatory. So we’re looking to Brussels to provide some clarity here.

“The central question is how do airports serve a particular country best, in terms of the flight networks they offer? For instance, in Greece, tourism is very important so its airports are likely to be geared up to support this.

“However, in the Netherlands, one could argue, one of Schiphol’s major roles is to facilitate economic activity and therefore its air cargo capacity should be protected and dedicated flights preserved, not reduced. There is certainly a lot of debate around this question and a review of the EU’s slot guidelines is likely over the next couple of years,” he added.

Cargo airlines have already been forced to surrender slots, since 2018 when capacity became an issue at Schiphol. At the time, in order to compensate for the loss of cargo flights, all concerned parties obtained approval from Dutch authorities for a ‘local rule’ that made provision for cargo flights to be prioritised in the allocation of vacant slots.

However, in a recent letter, the Dutch minister for infrastructure indicated that the slot coordinator should no longer issue vacant slots as soon as they are made available.

This seems to cancel the ‘local rule’ for cargo airlines.

He highlighted “a lot of scepticism” among the airport community and airlines over the flight reduction move at Schiphol and the “almost impossible” timetable to implement it.

“A debate is scheduled in Parliament on 6 October and this will really be the first time that questions can be put to the minister. Certainly, the current upheaval in air transport is not an ideal backdrop, with staff shortages among security staff leading to a lot of flight cancellations at Schiphol. It’s unclear how long this will last. Future slot allocation could become very messy.”

The number of cargo flights at Schiphol was 1,405 over the first eight months of the year, a decrease of more than 19% on the same period in 2021, but up almost 18% compared with pre-pandemic levels.

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