Netherlands carrier KLM has hit out at the outgoing Dutch government’s intent to go ahead with cuts in capacity at its Amsterdam Schiphol airport hub to counter noise pollution.

The Dutch government had last summer proposed cutting flight capacity at Schiphol – from an annual maximum of 500,000 down to 440,000 – in a bid to find a “new equilibrium” between flight activity and noise pollution at the airport. 

Schiphol airport

Source: Jan van der Wolf/

Annual flight departures are set to be capped at 452,500 a year under the proposals

Following a consultation period it has now announced plans to reduce annual flight capacity to a maximum of 452,500 flights a year from 2024. It has also reduced the number of night flights at the airport from 32,000 to 28,700 annually and requires the use of quieter aircraft at night. It says these measures will deliver a 15% cut in noise levels. 

“The decision we announced last year meant that we are taking a step that has not been taken anywhere else in the world,” says infrastructure minister Mark Harbers. “Today we are presenting the measures that can be implemented in 2024.”

The measures will now be put forward to the European Commission “for recommendations” before the Dutch cabinet can make a final decision.

Schiphol’s biggest carrier, KLM, hit out at the decision to press ahead with flight cuts. “Unfortunately, today the Dutch cabinet announced the government’s intention to drastically cut the number of flights operating at the Dutch airport Schiphol. In so doing, the minister is opting to focus one-sidedly on capacity reduction as a goal in itself. We find this incomprehensible.

“This is not about the number of flight movements but about reducing noise. The noise targets can be achieved in a better way that would really benefit local residents, the climate, airlines and the Dutch economy.”

KLM had put forward alternative proposals to mitigate noise levels at Schiphol, which included the operation of newer aircraft.

The government says the proposals involving the buying of newer aircraft were rejected because they would take too long, while the night-time closure of the airport was not possible under this process. It is though examining the potential partial night closure of Schiphol to achieve the targeted 20% noise reduction at night.

KLM chief executive Marjan Rintel says: “Minister Harbers asked us to reduce noise by 20%. To this end, we submitted the cleaner, quieter and more efficient plan. In it, we show that we can achieve the noise reduction targets while maintaining the current number of flight movements, maintaining the connection between the Netherlands as a trading nation and the rest of the world. Nonetheless, the minister remains fixated on capacity reductions.”

The Dutch government collapsed in June and elections will be held in November. Against this backdrop, IATA yesterday argued the measures should not continue under the leadership of a “caretaker government”.

IATA director general Willie Walsh said: ”It is essential that any decision be postponed until a fully functioning and accountable government with a fresh mandate is in place.”

IATA and other airlines have an ongoing legal challenge against the move, after initially successfully blocking the ruling in the courts.

Walsh says: ”This unprecedented and complex proposal can then be considered carefully, with the legal questions settled and the full facts and implications understood and in the public domain, and with sufficient time for the air transport industry to adapt if necessary, when a final decision is known.”

For its part, the airport’s operator Royal Schiphol Group welcomed the government ”taking the experimentation scheme and balanced approach a step further”, which it says provides more certainty and clarity.

Schiphol had proposed a night closure, the exclusion of the nosiest aircraft and private aircraft as part of its response to the consultation.

”We expected to see these measures reflected in the notification,” it says. ”At the same time, we note that the cabinet and political parties are now seriously considering Schiphol’s proposal for night closures. That is good news for the night’s sleep of local residents.”

Olivier Jankovec, director general of airports’ body ACI Europe, was critical of the action – arguing the decisions were about “political wins” ahead of elections.

“The caretaker Dutch Government has not sufficiently considered proposed alternative measures that would have allowed the stated noise mitigation targets to be achieved without requiring a capacity reduction at Schiphol.

“While the decision to temporarily reduce capacity as of Summer 2024 will provide much-needed legal certainty, it has been taken without conducting the Balanced Approach process.”