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KLM Unveils Schiphol Airport Noise Plan to Avoid Mandatory Flight Cuts

Edward Russell
June 16th, 2023 at 10:47 AM EDT

The entrance to Amsterdam's Schiphol airport

KLM has a new plan to reduce aircraft noise at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport without the mandatory flight cuts proposed by the Dutch government.

The carrier’s plan unveiled Thursday includes the rapid adoption of new, quieter planes on flights to and from Schiphol; more efficient approach and departure routes that would allow aircraft to spend less time at lower altitudes; and KLM’s operation of only quieter aircraft at night. In addition, KLM proposed that Schiphol offer lower fees for quieter aircraft and higher fees for noisier ones to encourage other airlines to adjust their operations.

If the proposal is adopted by the Netherlands’ Ministry of Infrastructure & Water Management, KLM said it could reduce aircraft noise by 15 percent at night next year, and by 20 percent during the day within three years.

“It’s a choice between scrapping flights as a short-term solution or aiming for smart improvement,” KLM said Thursday.

The plan comes amid a court battle between KLM and other airlines and the Dutch government over proposed flight cuts at Schiphol. The cuts, which the Ministry of Infrastructure & Water Management claims are needed to reduce noise, would see total annual aircraft movements at the airport decrease to 460,000 annually from 500,000 beginning in March 2024, and to 440,000 annually at a later date. The airlines won an initial court challenge in April, and a Dutch court is scheduled to hear the government’s appeal on June 21.

IATA Director General Willie Walsh earlier in June called the proposed flight reductions a “crude capacity cut” to achieve the government’s noise reduction aims.

Following the court ruling in April, the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure & Water Management launched a consultation with airlines and other stakeholders over noise reduction goals at Schiphol. The aim was to reduce the number of households affected by high levels of aircraft noise by 15-20 percent. That process concluded on Thursday, the day that KLM publicly unveiled its proposal.

“Reducing noise nuisance for the environment is the ultimate goal,” the ministry said in a statement. It has not yet released the results of the consultation.

At stake in the debate is really the future of KLM’s successful Schiphol hub. The proposed flight cuts would threaten its future growth and increase its non-fuel unit costs, especially during times of labor and aircraft inflation. And that’s not to mention Schiphol’s escalating airport charges.

KLM CEO Marjan Rintel has repeatedly emphasized the airline’s goal of a “balanced approach” to noise and carbon emission reductions. This includes the three pillars outlined Thursday. Any reduction in aircraft movements at Schiphol should only be made as a “last resort” if the other approaches do not achieve the sought-after noise savings, she said earlier in June.

KLM has up to 160 Airbus A320neo and A321neo aircraft on order to renew its, and subsidiary Transavia’s, narrowbody fleets in the coming years. The two carriers, including Transavia France, operated 147 older-generation Boeing 737s at the end of March. The A320neo family is roughly 50 percent quieter than older narrowbodies, according to Airbus.

The carrier is also updating its widebody fleet with new Boeing 787s, and its feeder fleet with Embraer E195-E2s. Both new models are quieter than the older planes they replace.

Separate from the government proposal, Schiphol Airport in April proposed a ban on certain night flights to reduce both noise and emissions. If adopted, it would bar takeoffs from midnight to 6 a.m., and landings from midnight to 5 a.m.

“We have thought about growth but too little about its impact for too long,” Royal Schiphol Group CEO Ruud Sondag said at the time. “We need to be sustainable for our employees, the local environment, and the world. I realize that our choices may have significant implications for the aviation industry, but they are necessary.”

KLM is among airlines around the world pushing for the development of sustainable aviation fuels, or SAFs. These lower-emission fuels are seen as the largest contributor to the aviation industry’s target of achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Edward Russell
June 16th, 2023 at 10:47 AM EDT

Tags: Europe

Photo credit: The entrance to Amsterdam's Schiphol airport Flickr / EtienneMuis

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