On Friday July 7th, the court of appeals in Amsterdam ruled that the Dutch government can order Schiphol Airport to reduce the number of flights from 500,000 per year to 460,000. The decision overturns the ruling made in April by a lower court indicating that the Dutch government had not followed the correct procedure when requesting the reduction.
In summary proceedings in April, the lower court ruled that the State should have followed European rules to implement the reduction, which state that a goal for reducing noise pollution from Schiphol must first be formulated, from which other measures must then follow. The Amsterdam court of appeals is of the opinion that this is a temporary measure that the State can introduce.
The court of appeals goes along with the Dutch government’s defense asserting that there was in fact tolerance in light of a higher number of flights because only 400,000 flights per year are allowed. The court says the airlines are “not entitled to have the illegal situation remain unchanged.”
Infrastructure and Water Management Minister Harbers decided last year that Schiphol should go down from a maximum of 500,000 flights per year to 440,000 flights by the end of 2023. According to Harbers, that is a number that both airlines and local residents could live with.
It soon became clear, however, that the end of 2023 was not feasible for the planned reduction. Minister Harbers, with Schiphol’s approval, came up with an alternative: a provisional reduction to 460,000 flights could be introduced immediately without interference from the European Commission. Flights at Schiphol may still go down to 460,000 flights in the short term, and in the meantime the Commission can look into whether the reduction to 440,000 flights is possible.
Dutch airlines have questioned whether the goals are feasible. According to local media, industry association Barin has pointed out that the airlines may have already drafted their schedules. Barin has called for a “constructive dialogue,” hoping that a middle ground is still possible. Minister Harbers is open to have further talks. “We have to take a close look at how it matches with their schedules,” he said.
For some of the local residents, the reduction in the number of flights does not go far enough. Meanwhile, airlines are vehemently opposing the decision. Schiphol is a very important destination for more than 100 airlines, which may show some resistance at the idea of giving up their landing rights.
Minister Harbers wants to experiment in the coming year by combining old and new noise regulations to achieve a better balance for local residents, as well as for Schiphol and the airlines. New flight routes that pass less frequently over residential areas have been developed.
KLM and at least 20 other airlines took the State to court earlier this year over the reduction plans. The airline has called the recent court’s ruling “disappointing”, according to Dutch media. Residents’ group Recht op Bescherming tegen Vliegtuighinder (RBV) was also a party to the appeal, calling the ruling “good news” for all residents in the Schiphol region.
Schiphol, which sided with the Dutch government in the appeal, would like to see more clarity from authorities. “We expect the State to provide further clarity on the number of flights within two months.” Without a concrete plan, both Schiphol and the airlines do not know how they will fill the 2024 summer season.
In April of this year, the airport announced its intention to end all night flights. It called for a ban on private jet flights, as well as on the aircraft generating most noise.