Appeals court rules Dutch State can force Schiphol to cut 40,000 flights per year

A ruling by the Amsterdam Court of Appeal overturned a lower court ruling on Friday, giving the Dutch government permission to order a significant reduction in the number of flight movements at Schiphol Airport as a way of cutting down on noise disturbances in the surrounding area. The Dutch State will be allowed to cut the number of flights by 40,000, taking the annual total to 460,000.

The new ruling stated that the government was allowed to press forward with their plans for the 2023-2024 travel season. Another 20,000 flights will be cut the following year. The airport and passenger airlines operating there had claimed that they were not being given enough advanced notice, and that they were not given an opportunity to implement their own solutions.

But the Appeals Court said noted that the government acted improperly in 2015, when it made a decision to look the other way when noise limits were exceeded. That has been ongoing for eight years. The ruling on Friday stated that the airlines are not entitled to “the illegal situation that the State tolerated,” and keeping that situation in place without change.

A lower court ruled in April that the government’s two proposals were not enacted in compliance with national and European law. The first proposal is to more strictly enforce actual violations of noise limits depending on the manner in which several runways are put to use. The second proposal is a one-year experiment with a variety of different rules meant to cut down on noise at the airport when used in different combinations.

“The proposed measures will partly determine the number of permitted air transport movements to and from Schiphol. A statutory maximum only applies to night flights,” the Court stated when summarizing the government’s position. The lower court believed the Dutch State should have used a “balanced approach” procedure based on the European Noise Ordinance when determining the impact operations. However, the Appeals Court said that the balanced approach only needs to be used in determining more permanent measures.

Since the government’s proposals consist of “a temporary and short-term experiment in preparation for possible future adjustments to the applicable noise regulations,” the Appeals Court said the European rule did not apply.

The coalition agreement that led to the formation of Prime Minister Minister Mark Rutte’s third and fourth Cabinets called for more adherence to the reduction of nuisance, and an improved quality of life around the airport both for noise pollution and air quality. There was also a push to have a better balance between the interests of Schiphol Airport, its stakeholders including airlines, and the residents in the area. As such, they determined the maximum number of flight movements should be kept well below 500,000, and settled on 460,000 in total.

The Dutch State owns 70 percent of the Royal Schiphol Group, and 9.3 percent of the Air France – KLM Group, which owns the two largest airlines operating at Schiphol, KLM and Transavia.

Schiphol already indicated plans to eliminate all overnight flights by the end of 2025, but said it would also look at how that could become a possibility by the end of 2024. This would prevent all commercial passenger flights and cargo flights from departing between midnight and 6 a.m., and preventing all non-emergency landings between midnight and 5 a.m. That decision alone will cut about 10,000 flights annually.

Transavia could potentially be the passenger airline most affected by the decision, as it uses a business model of keeping its aircraft flying as much as possible to get maximum value out of them. EasyJet, the third largest airline by passenger volume at Schiphol, uses a similar model.

Another 17,000 flights could also be scrapped at Schiphol by eliminating most private passenger flights. Exceptions are expected for police helicopters, medical team helicopters, and the Coast Guard.

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