Studies into a new location for Amersterdam's noise-limited Schiphol Airport are being stepped up as the Netherlands Government attempts to placate growing pressure from environmental groups.

In a policy decision on 28 November, the Government rejected calls to put an absolute cap on the volume of aviation growth within the Netherlands, but, in what is being seen as a victory for the country's environment minister, has agreed this will have to take place within existing noise limits.

A committee is studying the feasibility of continuing growth at Schiphol and has been asked to report by late 1998 on alternative locations for a new airport.

Although the decision won support from the country's main political parties, environmentalists have said that they will oppose the policy.

Three locations are under study. One is an "overflow" airport on reclaimed land near Rotterdam, with annual capacity for 20 million passengers by 2010. Rotterdam's Zestienhoven Airport would be closed and Schiphol capacity would be reduced to 16 million passengers a year.

A second model is for a new hub on reclaimed land in the IJssel Mer, the enclosed sea north of Amsterdam. The third model involves building on an artificial island 10km (6 miles) off the North Sea coast, linked with Schiphol by a high-speed monorail. Although a favoured solution, this would require major state subsidies.

The Schiphol authorities still hope to increase annual passenger numbers from the existing 28 million to the 44 million approved by Government for 2003.

The authorities admit that longer-term plans for 60 million passengers will hinge on remaining within the noise limits.

Meanwhile, Schiphol remains under tight legal limits as to the annual levels of flying within noise "contours" around the airport, including harsh restrictions on night flying. The airport came close to breaching these limits in the last three months of this year threatening a crisis for airline operations, which was narrowly averted when the Netherlands prime minister stepped in to give Schiphol a stay of execution.

The airport warns that it will have to curtail the growth in aircraft movements if it is to avoid a similar crisis in 1998.

Night curfews and landing-fee penalties for Chapter 2 aircraft have already been introduced, and further measures are planned

One medium-term solution would be to speed construction of the fifth runway, planned to open in 2003. This would allow aircraft to approach over less densely populated areas, while an existing runway would be closed.

Source: Flight International