The Dutch government announced in July 2022 plans of cutting Schiphol Airport’s operations by around 20% in an effort to reduce noise pollution. A maximum limit of 460,000 flights at Amsterdam’s Airport was to be introduced in November 2023 and of 440,000 by the end of 2024.
The measure has gone back and forth, the International Air Tavel Association (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 is experimental, it is not subject to EU regulation, thus ruled in favour of the government.
The case is now awaiting a decision from the Netherlands’ Supreme Court, but, in the meantime, IATA, together with Airlines for America (A4A), European Business Aviation Association (EBAA) and European Regions Airline Association (ERA), has warned that, should the current caretaker government of the country push the regulation through, it “could result in retaliatory international action and further legal challenges, including from governments defending their rights under international agreements and bilateral treaties”.
It is essential that any decision be postponed until a fully functioning and accountable government with a fresh mandate is in place.Willie Walsh, IATA Director General
Moreover, the association brings into question the accountability of the current government, since it will be changed in a few months’ time, thus no longer responsible for the repercussions of any decisions it might take at the moment. “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”, IATA said in a statement.
Only after a new government is set can the “unprecedented and complex proposal can be considered carefully, with the legal questions settled and the full facts and implications understood and in the public domain, and with sufficient time for the air transport industry to adapt if necessary”, according to IATA’s Director General Willie Walsh.
“The expected decision of the Dutch government is arbitrary, ill thought out and undercuts the procedures normally used to assess such drastic measures”, Managing Director of Airlines for Europe (A4E), Ourania Georgoutsakou, added in a statement. “It is deeply worrying that an EU member state is acting in an unpredictable and rushed manner on something which will have massive repercussions for the Netherlands and the wider EU single market. European aviation has been built on competition and market certainty and this decision strikes at the very heart of what has made the EU’s single aviation market one of Europe’s great success stories. The industry has put forward robust alternatives that would meet the government’s objectives and avoid a cut in Schiphol’s capacity. These proposals should not be ignored.”
The Balanced Approach, which IATA says the regulation is in breach of, is an internationally agreed process to manage noise at airport communities adopted into law in national jurisdictions, including in the EU and many of its trading partners. A core tenet of the Balanced Approach is that operational restrictions and flight cuts are the last resort, to be considered only when a number of other steps have been taken to achieve noise mitigation targets. The Balanced Approach is used specifically to ensure local community needs are respected, at the same time as the wider benefits of air connectivity to the nation are protected.