Last year, the Dutch government announced plans of limiting the number of international flights in the Netherlands in a move to reduce the country’s carbon emissions, as well as limiting noise pollution in the airports’ proximity. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) and several airlines took legal action against the decision with a Dutch court recently ruling in favour of the plaintiffs.
“We welcome the judge’s decision. This case has been about upholding the law and international obligations. The judge has understood that the Dutch government violated its obligations in shortcutting processes that would bring scrutiny to its desire to cut flight numbers at Schiphol. This decision gives vital stability for this year to the airlines using Schiphol airport and maintains the choice and connectivity passengers value”, said IATA’s Director General Willie Walsh.
Winning this vital reprieve is good news for Schiphol’s passengers, Dutch businesses, the Dutch economy and airlines.Willie Walsh, Director General IATA
1. Court ruling
The judge ruled that the State had not followed the correct procedure in introducing the proposed temporary regulation. According to European rules, the State can only reduce the number of aircraft movements at an airport after going through a careful process. This process entails, among other things:
- the State must identify various measures that can reduce noise pollution,
- the State must consult all interested parties,
- a reduction in the number of aircraft movements is only allowed if it is clear that other measures to limit noise pollution are insufficient.
The Interim Injunction Judge noted that the State had started that procedure for the proposed reduction of the number of aircraft movements to 440,000 per year starting in the 2024/2025 season. But the government did not follow this procedure for the proposed temporary regulation in which it planned to reduce the maximum number of allowed aircraft movements to 460,000 for the upcoming 2023/2024 season. Therefore, the ruling states that the Dutch State may not reduce the number of aircraft movements at Schiphol from 500,000 to 460,000 for the season 2023/2024.
The threat of flight cuts at Schiphol remains very real and is still the stated policy of the government.Willie Walsh, Director General IATA
“But the job is not done”, Walsh warns. “The threat of flight cuts at Schiphol remains very real and is still the stated policy of the government. Schiphol airport themselves yesterday announced night flight cuts without consultation. Airlines understand the importance of resolving issues such as noise. The Balanced Approach is the correct, EU and global legally enshrined process for managing noise impacts. It has helped airports around the world successfully address this issue.”
The Dutch government has recently decided to reduce the number of flight movements at Schiphol from 500,000 to 440,000 per year. IATA believed no legal basis existed for this reduction. According to international treaties and European regulations, governments can lower the number of flight movements in order to reduce noise, but only after having after a careful process, consisting of assessing the current noise level, setting a noise goal and considering alternative measures.
The Dutch government also sought to accelerate the implementation of this reduction by introducing an “experimental regulation” with an interim cap of 460,000 flight movements from 1 November 2023, which IATA also contested.
IATA and airlines that fly into Schiphol sought to halt the application of this experimental regulation. KLM and other carriers based at the airport launched a similar legal action. The carriers that joined IATA’s action were: Air Canada, United Airlines, FedEx, JetBlue, British Airways, Vueling, Lufthansa, and Airlines for America.