Court Rejects Plan to Reduce Flight Movements at Schiphol

The Noord-Holland court has overturned the Dutch State's decision to reduce the number of flights at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport.



April 5, 2023

DALLAS — The Noord-Holland court has overturned the Dutch State's decision to reduce the number of flights at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport (AMS) from 500,000 to 460,000 for the 2023/24 season.

The ruling was reached as a result of a lawsuit brought by KLM (KL) and other airlines, who claimed that the State failed to include them and other stakeholders in the decision-making process.

Haarlemmerbuurt-Ijdok | IjdokNew Amsterdam Courthouse.Arch. Felix Claus2013.
Haarlemmerbuurt-Ijdok | Ijdok New Amsterdam Courthouse. Arch. Felix Claus 2013 | Photo: Fred Romero, CC BY-SA 4.0

Dutch Court Favours Airlines

According to European rules, the State can only reduce the number of air transport movements at an airport after mapping out various options for reducing noise pollution and consulting stakeholders.

However, the State has started the EU procedure to reduce the flight movements at the AMS to 440,000 by 2024/25, and if it gets approved, it can reduce the number of flights to 440,000 as planned. The recent announcement by AMS to ban all overnight flights, private flights, and noisy outdated aircraft by the end of 2025 is a separate issue.

The aim of the airport's and Cabinet's plans is to reduce noise disturbances and pollution levels around the airport. However, airlines and vacation package operators suggest that investment in newer, quieter, and cleaner aircraft is a better solution in the long term.

They also believe that they need the ability to operate at all hours of the day to make more use of their airplanes, which pays for the costs to obtain and maintain them while keeping airfare more affordable.

AMS' 6 runways are viewed from an airplane taking off at dawn. Photo: By Adenosine Triphosphate - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

IATA Declares Gov Move Unlawful

IATA and its co-plaintiffs argued that the Dutch government must adhere to the Balanced Approach (BA) - a methodology for reducing noise at airports.

The BA, which is enshrined in various international treaties and regulations, including ICAO Annex 16 and European Regulation 598/2014, mandates that flight reductions should only be considered when all other measures have been exhausted.

These measures include an objective assessment of noise levels, a review of possible mitigation options, cost-effectiveness estimation, and operating restrictions as a last resort, with principles of proportionality and non-discrimination.

According to IATA, the government failed to follow this process, leading to the filing of the lawsuit to declare the 'experimental regulation' unlawful.

KLM PH-BKA Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner (100 Years Livery)
KLM PH-BKA Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner(100 Years Livery) | Photo: Nate Foy/Airways

What’s Next?

If the State does not appeal the court's decision in time, the flight limit at Schiphol Airport will remain at 500,000 for the Winter 2023-2024 season. The focus now shifts to the ongoing consultation about permanently limiting AMS to 440,000 flights starting in 2024.

It is believed that the Dutch government is at risk of violating the BA if they continue to proceed from the premise of reducing flights to 440,000 without first measuring noise and defining a noise objective.

According to the BA, reducing flights should be the last resort after analyzing all options to achieve the noise objective. The court ruling strongly suggests that the government should follow the proper procedure and consider all alternatives.

Feature Image: Schiphol Tower. Photo: Ikreis, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons