© Andrew Angelov

The Dutch aviation community has accused the government of gambling with both its economy and national carrier, with a vote this afternoon in the Lower House cementing “the risk” the outgoing government is taking by cutting capacity at Schiphol airport.

Airlines have already lost several times in their bid to keep slots at Schiphol – most recently when the government decided that the issue was not “controversial” – which means that critical decisions can continue to be made by the outgoing, rather than incoming, government.

“It seemed a no-brainer that that the shrinkage of Schiphol airport – proposed only last year ‘out of nothing’ by this government – would be one of these controversial topics,” said Air Cargo Netherlands (ACN) MD Maarten van As.

Had it been designated controversial, it would have been reviewed by the new government instead, following elections in November.

KLM told The Loadstar: “To our disappointment, the Lower House has not declared the shrinkage plans for Schiphol controversial. With our ‘Cleaner, Quieter, More Economical’ plan, we have shown that we can achieve the government’s noise targets through fleet renewal, operational measures and using the quietest aircraft possible at night, while maintaining connections between the Netherlands and the world. We would like to discuss this with the outgoing cabinet and MPs.”

But current minister of infrastructure and water management Mark Harbers has decided to accept the “risk” of retaliation by the US if Schiphol’s slots are reduced.

And it is a risk – for KLM. The US Department of Transport has warned that a unilateral decision to cut slots in Amsterdam would contravene the open skies agreement – and that it could cut KLM’s frequencies to the US in return.

“We warned the ministry in September 2021 about the US threat – but the minister said we have to take the risk,” explained Mr van As. “I completely understand why KLM is furious.”

The ACN September 2021 letter noted that “the adoption of such measures could violate the obligations of the Netherlands and therefore the EU and its member states under the US-EU agreement… we cannot ignore that other countries may retaliate the unilateral decision to reduce night movements at Schiphol”.

In June, pilot association ALPA waded in on a JetBlue complaint to the Dutch government, noting that the slot change would cut 12% of flights at Schiphol “in a manner inconsistent with the agreement”. It asked the DoT to “exercise the full extent of its authority … to secure the Dutch government’s commitment to reverse its decision to restrict flights at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport”.

Marnix Fruitema, chairman of Board of Airline representatives in the Netherlands, noted on social media this morning: “Harbers [says] ‘we’ll take the risk’. Perhaps better to go to Holland Casino. Gambling with employment, gambling with a carefully built network at Schiphol, gambling on the back of aviation is completely inappropriate.”

KLM, other airlines and IATA lost an appeal in court in July against the government plan, but are taking it now to the Dutch Supreme Court. But Mr Harbers has said flights will be capped by 452,500 per year – 9.5% below 2019 levels, and lower than a previous proposal of 460,000.

KLM said the cap was “incomprehensible”. Dario Fucci, of the airline’s works council, told Dutch media KLM had offered an alternative plan to cut noise around the airport.

He added: “We invest billions in a quieter fleet and are then punished. This is the world turned upside down.”

He added that the government was also talking with Air Traffic Control about alternative approach routes with less noise, but said: “Little has been done about that for years. Why does KLM have to suffer for the fact that the minister doesn’t have his own shop in order?”

The plan still needs to be approved by the European Commission, which was sent the proposal last month.

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