US airlines are celebrating news that the Dutch government has backed off a plan to reduce the number of flights at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport next year.
The plan, designed to reduce noise pollution at Schiphol by trimming the number of take-offs and landings, would have cost US carriers more than 300 operating slots at the airport, with one carrier – JetBlue Airways – being locked out completely. JetBlue had only in August launched flights between the US East Coast and Amsterdam.
The government of the Netherlands has now backed off the plans, saying numerous countries, including the USA, “raised concerns” about the new scheme, and that it may violate Open Skies agreements.
“In the eyes of the United States, the capacity reduction would be unjust, discriminatory and anti-competitive for airlines,” the Dutch minister of infrastructure and water management Mark Harbers said on 14 November.
“The Dutch government has taken a good first step in agreeing to suspend its plan to cut flight capacity at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol which was set to begin in the summer 2024 season,” JetBlue Airways said on 14 November in reaction to the decision. “We continue to advocate for a long-term resolution that allows for new entrants and competitors in the market like JetBlue.”
Following a consultation period, the Dutch government in June announced plans to reduce capacity to a maximum of 452,500 flights annually from 2024. It also cut the number of night flights at the airport from 32,000 to 28,700 annually and required use of quieter aircraft at night. The goal was to cut noise pollution 15%.
When the plans became public earlier this year, US airlines complained loudly to the US government, which then intervened on their behalf.
This month, the US government approved complaints by JetBlue Airways and trade group Airlines for America (A4A) against the government of the Netherlands and the European Union. The airline and lobby group had alleged the capacity cuts would violate US and European laws and the US-EU Air Transport Agreement.
Dutch carrier KLM also complained about the reductions, calling them “incomprehensible”. KLM put forward alternative proposals to mitigate noise levels at Schiphol, which included operating newer aircraft.
Meantime, the US Department of Transportation was working to negotiate a solution with Dutch authorities and, in response to the Schiphol cuts, ordered Dutch airlines to submit their US flight schedules – a seeming step toward retaliation.
“Today’s announcement that the Dutch government will suspend their plan to reduce flights in and out of Schiphol airport for the summer 2024 season is welcomed news,” says A4A. “We are grateful to the US government, particularly the Department of Transportation, for listening to the aviation industry’s concerns and issuing a very strong order outlining the violations of the US-EU Air Transport Agreement.”
“We thank the US government for their commitment to upholding the principles of the Open Skies Agreement to ensure that JetBlue is granted continued access at Amsterdam’s only viable airport,” JetBlue adds.
JetBlue began flying to Amsterdam from both New York and Boston this year and says it “has already demonstrated a unique value to customers - offering both low fares and great service in a market dominated by one joint venture”.
“We now urge the Dutch government and all relevant stakeholders to ensure we have access for next summer,” the airline adds.
The European Union had also sent a letter of complaint.
“This letter states that the European Commission expressly reserves the right to start infringement proceedings against the Netherlands in the next infringement round, due to…non-compliance with European regulations,” Dutch minister Harbers says.
The airport, meantime, said that it was “disappointed” by the Netherlands’ decision to back off.
“Local residents are getting the short end of the stick,” the airport said on 14 November. “Reducing the number of flights is not a goal in itself for us, but the experimental ruling did provide clarity and certainty for local residents.” The new situation creates “more uncertainty, including for the aviation sector itself”.
“The importance of a night closure of Schiphol is now becoming even more imminent,” Schiphol adds. ”This also applies to the other measures in our eight-point plan, such as the ban on private flights and the banning of the noisiest aircraft.”