Protesters holding a sign reading 'Leave the plane, take the train' march outside Schiphol Airport on November 5, 2022 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. (Photo by Michel Porro/Getty Images)


Dutch plans to ‘shrink’ Schiphol airport spurs anger and US sanctions threat


The outgoing Dutch government wants to “shrink” Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. Airline organisations are furious and even Washington is threatening to take retaliatory measures.

The government plans to enforce a reduction of more than 10 per cent in Schiphol’s annual flight numbers to 450,000 or even 440,000 in 2024.

The decision seems at odds with previous policies, as growth of the facility had been a main objective. The change is said to be because the government wants to cut noise pollution and obtain a new nature permit under what are now strict environmental policies.

The coalition agreement of the plan reads: “There must be attention to reducing the negative effects of aviation on humans, the environment and nature.

“There are various challenges surrounding the airport in terms of nitrogen, (ultra)fine particles, noise pollution, living environment quality, safety and housing.”

The government was due decide on the issue in 2022 but has only now got round to it. Initially, it wanted to ban night flights and the use of private jets but that has turned out to be too problematic.

On September 1, the definitive plans were sent to Brussels as the European Union has to verify the proposal’s legality.

Airline associations are crying foul. “In no way can this be considered ‘uncontroversial’,” some major players in the aviation sector said in a press release.

“In a few months’ time, this 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.”

“Such a consequential and controversial move requires proper democratic scrutiny and political accountability,” they added.

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines said the plans were “unnecessary” and “harmful”.

“The noise-reduction targets can be achieved in a better way, benefiting local residents, the climate, airlines and the Dutch economy,” said the airline, adding it felt it was possible to achieve that by operating newer aircraft.

The United States is also upset at the plan. In an angry letter, Washington threatened to take retaliatory measures, saying that the Netherlands’ intention to shrink Schiphol is in violation of the US-EU Air Transport Agreement.

The US is concerned about market access for American carriers. If American airlines lose landing slots, they claim, the co-operation over aviation between the US and the Netherlands will suffer. “We request the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management to postpone Phase 1 of the experimental regulation as soon as possible,” the letter stated.

It added that, should the plans go ahead, US carriers would restrict collaboration with Dutch airlines.

The US transport ministry requested that the issue be declared “controversial” by members of the Dutch Parliament. That would mean the Cabinet could not work on it, deferring the issue.

On September 12, the Tweede Kamer, the lower chamber of the Dutch Parliament, will debate what themes are too contentious for the exiting Cabinet to deal with.

Schiphol is the Netherland’s main international airport and one of the busiest in the world by international passenger traffic. With an annual cargo tonnage of 1.74 million, it is the fourth-busiest for freight in Europe.