A Dutch court has blocked a move to cap the number of flights at Amsterdam Schiphol airport from this winter on the grounds the government has not followed procedure for the temporary measure.

Airlines launched a legal challenge after Schiphol introduced plans to cut the number of permitted annual flights from 500,000 to 460,000 with effect from the start of this winter season. Schiphol argued the move was a “necessary interim measure” ahead of government plans, announced last summer, to cap total flights from the airport at 440,000 annually as part of efforts to address noise pollution.

Schiphol airport

Source: Jan van der Wolf/Shutterstock.com

The District Court of Noord-Holland has today ruled that the state did not go through the correct procedure with the introduction of the proposed temporary cap, citing that under this process the state must consult all stakeholders and that a reduction in air transport movements is only permitted if it is clear that other measures to limit noise nuisance ”are insufficiently effective”. The ruling only applies to the temporary reduction due to take effect this winter.

"The preliminary relief judge has established that the state has initiated that procedure for the proposed reduction in the number of air transport movements to 440,000 per year from the 2024-2025 season,” the court says. ”But the state has not followed that procedure for the proposed temporary arrangement whereby the state wants to reduce the maximum number of permitted air transport movements to 460,000 for the upcoming 2023-2024 season.”

Following the judgement, Scihphol’s biggest carrier KLM says it would rather co-operate with the other parties than face them in court. "We were unfortunately forced to file these preliminary relief proceedings to get clarity; the capacity for the coming winter will be determined at the beginning of May. With this verdict, we have clarity,” it says.

KLM adds that it sees a better alternative for achieving less noise and CO2 while meeting travellers’ need to fly. ”We will demonstrate this in the next phase of this case. This will investigate whether noise levels can be reduced around Schiphol using methods other than those envisaged by the ministry. The balanced approach is about the best way to reduce the number of people affected by aircraft noise. To this end, we would like to continue cooperating with government, Schiphol and any other relevant parties.”

IATA , which took the legal action against the ruling, welcomed the judge's decision. "Winning this vital reprieve is good news for Schiphol’s passengers, Dutch businesses, the Dutch economy and airlines. But the job is not done," says IATA director general Willie Walsh. "The threat of flight cuts at Schiphol remains very real and is still the stated policy of the government. 

"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.”

For its part Schiphol says: "The court decision, which we will study closely, provides clarity about the number of flights and anticipatory enforcement. Schiphol will continue with everything we do to make aviation quieter and cleaner, including the measures announced."

Schiphol outlined plans to ban night and private aviation flights at the airport by not later than 2025-26, as well as tightening regulations restricting noisier aircraft.