Airlines Decry Schiphol Slot Cuts As Flight Cap Plans Advance

Schiphol Airport
Credit: Rob Finlayson

PARIS—IATA is saying a planned reduction in slots at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol for summer 2024 confirms its “worst fears” as controversial plans by the Dutch government to reduce noise at the airport by capping flights move a step closer to reality.  

IATA Deputy Director General Conrad Clifford said the news that fewer slots would be available next summer “confirms our worst fears of the effects of the enforced cut to flight numbers at the airport.” 

He added: “This is where the government’s ill-thought-out plans hit reality: fewer destinations, and less choice, resulting in fewer travelers, lost employment, and reduced investment coming into the Netherlands.” 

“According to the draft capacity declaration of Amsterdam Airport Schiphol the seasonal limit for Northern Summer 2024 (S24) will be set on 280,645 slots,” a spokesperson for Netherlands’ slot coordinator ACNL said. That represents a reduction of approximately 4% compared to summer 2022, with the summer 2023 season lasting 31 weeks and summer 2024 30 weeks.  

Airlines must submit their initial requests by Oct. 5, and ACNL will publish initial allocation results for summer 2024 on Nov. 2, at which point it will be clearer which routes are affected by the reduction. “ACNL applies in Initial Allocation the principle of proportionality,” ACNL said. “All airlines will be affected in the same order.”  

IATA’s Clifford said the situation could not be allowed to be “helaas, pindakaas”, a colloquial Dutch expression meaning “too bad.”  

“Too much is at stake,” Clifford added. “Jobs today and the prosperity of the Netherlands in the future will be damaged by this decision. This caretaker Dutch government, lacking any democratic mandate, is setting fire to its own shop.” 

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines CEO Marjan Rintel had used the same analogy Sept. 1, when she spoke out about the planned flight cap. “As an outgoing minister, you don’t mind the shop by closing it!” Rintel said, referring to Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management Mark Harbers, who first presented the plan.  

Rintel said the airline’s own plan to reduce noise and emissions and boost efficiency showed that it could achieve the noise reduction targets while maintaining the current number of flight movements. She also previously said that any move to limit flight numbers at Schiphol would harm KLM’s network, which currently counts close to 170 direct destinations from the airport.  

Clifford said the European Commission (EC) should act. “This is surely the wake-up call other governments need to remind the Dutch of their responsibilities under international law and bilateral air service agreements.”  

The Dutch government submitted its plan on the matter to the EC Sept. 1, following months of legal back-and-forth, as airlines grouped together to launch an initially successful legal challenge before the government appealed against it and a court ruled the plan could go ahead.  

“Meanwhile, our appeal to the Cassation court remains to be heard,” Clifford said. “We hope the court decides swiftly on the legality of the ‘Experimental Regulation’ that is causing this mess.”

An EC spokesperson confirmed it had received a notification of the Dutch government’s intention Sept. 1, under the balanced approach regulation. The balanced approach is the procedure member states need to follow if they wish to reduce noise at an airport.

“The Netherlands also informed the Commission that, pending the reduction under the balanced approach procedure, it will introduce an ‘experimental Regulation’ which will restrict operations at Schiphol to 460,000 per year as of March 2024,” the EC said.

The Commission said it has taken note of the Dutch government’s plans. “While the Commission fully supports the intention to tackle important environmental and noise concerns, such measures must be applied in accordance with relevant EU law,” the spokesperson said. “The Commission will now carry out an in-depth assessment into the compatibility of the Dutch measures with EU law.”

Helen Massy-Beresford

Based in Paris, Helen Massy-Beresford covers European and Middle Eastern airlines, the European Commission’s air transport policy and the air cargo industry for Aviation Week & Space Technology and Aviation Daily.