Schiphol flight cuts halted by Dutch court

IATA reacted positively to the decision by the Dutch court to uphold the legal challenges lodged by IATA, KLM and other airlines against the Dutch government’s “experimental regulation” to cut Schiphol airport’s flight limit to 460,000 annually from November 2023.


IATA Director General Willie Walsh said: “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.

“Winning this vital reprieve is good news for Schiphol’s passengers, Dutch businesses, the Dutch economy and airlines. But the job is not done. The threat of flight cuts at Schiphol remains very real and is still the stated policy of the government. Schiphol airport announced night flight cuts without consultation. Airlines understand the importance of resolving such issues 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.”

What was the legal challenge about?

The Dutch government 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: it violates international treaties and European regulations. Governments can lower the number of flight movements to reduce noise, but only after due process. This did not occur. The 440,000 cap is not a means to an end, but the objective. 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. IATA believed this interim cap was in violation of international treaties and European regulations.

IATA and airlines that fly into Schiphol therefore sought to halt the application of this experimental regulation. KLM and other carriers based at Schiphol 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.

What was the judge’s decision?

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 stated process. The State must consult all interested parties, and 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 State did not follow this procedure for the proposed temporary regulation in which the State wants 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.

Why had the Dutch government ordered a cut in flight numbers?

The Minister for Water and Infrastructure in the coalition Dutch government is responding to the concerns of some residents who are principally concerned about noise. Local air quality and some greenhouse gas emissions (nitrogen and CO2) have also been listed as concerns but are not the reason for the cut. A letter (24.6.22) from Minister Marc Harbers to the President of the House of Representatives in the Hague states that the noise nuisance is the objective, but the Minister also admits that he has not yet investigated noise nuisance or set a specific nuisance objective, which are both requirements before being allowed to apply such restrictions.

What are the next steps?

Assuming the State does not appeal the decision in time, Schiphol's flight limit will remain at 500,000 for the Winter 23–24 season. Attention now moves to the consultation that has begun on limiting Schiphol on a permanent basis to 440,000 flights from 2024 onwards.

IATA believes that the Dutch State is again at risk of not following the Balanced Approach by proceeding from the basis that flight numbers will be reduced to 440,000, rather than starting with measuring noise and defining a noise objective. Any flight cuts can only be a last resort to achieve this noise objective, not the starting point. We believe that the ruling today gives a strong indication that the State must follow the proper process and analyze all options. 


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