After going back and forth for over a year with its “Experimental Regulation” of limiting the number of flights at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, the Dutch government finally decided to scrap the measure in November last year. However, it is now awaiting a decision from the European Commission on whether a cap would be in compliance with the EU Balanced Approach regulation.
Challenged by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and multiple airlines, the government halted the initiative awaiting the investigation of the Commission. Initially, the aim was to, by the end of 2024, cap daily flights at 440,000, but the new limit, pending the Commission’s approval, is of 452,000 flights.
“The Commission is still in discussions with Dutch authorities to ensure it has all the necessary elements to provide its opinion. Once the Commission has all the required information, it will provide its opinion in three months”, said Commission spokesperson Adalbert Jahnz.
The due diligence process however does not sit very well with the Dutch. On the one hand, the government is under pressure from a pending class action lawsuit over noise at Schiphol Airport, which starts hearings on 30 January. “It’s a slap in the face to the residents who have been suffering enormous noise pollution for years”, Habtamu de Hoop, an MP for the Labor Party said impatiently. While admitting they would have liked a speedier resolution, Infrastructure Minister Mark Harbers acknowledged the importance of the “prescribed processes”.
On the other hand, citizens are just as eager to see the number of flights limited. “We want our sleep back!”, a coalition of NGOs wrote in a letter the Commission. The group said 4 million Europeans are “highly annoyed by aircraft noise” and that 1.7 million “suffer … from aircraft-induced major sleep disturbance”.
The plan of cutting Schiphol Airport’s operations by around 20% was announced in July 2022, in an effort to reduce noise pollution. A maximum limit of 460,000 flights at the hub was to be introduced in November 2023 and of 440,000 by the end of 2024.
The measure went back and forth, IATA challenging the legality of the measure for breaking EU law and bilateral air services agreements connected with the Balanced Approach to noise. A first court ruled against the “Experimental Regulation”, while the Court of Appeal concluded that, since the measure was experimental, it was not subject to EU regulation, thus ruled in favour of the government. The Supreme Court is expected to make a final ruling this spring.
In August 2023, IATA warned that, had the caretaker government of the country pushed the regulation through, it could have resulted “in retaliatory international action and further legal challenges, including from governments defending their rights under international agreements and bilateral treaties”. Soon after the warning, the US Department of Transportation threatened to take retaliatory action since the cap would have affected the connectivity between the US and Europe, thus breaching the EU – US Open Skies Agreement. Another cautioning came from European Commissioner for Transport, Adina Vălean, who expressed “serious concerns” in a letter to the Dutch government about whether the cap had been properly vetted, leading to the halt of the initiative.