KLM and other airlines may have to cut their schedules in Amsterdam as soon as next summer after a Dutch appeals court ruled that the government could limit flights at Schiphol airport. The limits are intended to reduce noise pollution in the surrounding communities.
The decision from the Amsterdam Court of Appeals on Friday allows the government of the Netherlands to move forward with plans to reduce aircraft movements at Schiphol airport to 460,000 annually from the current cap of 500,000, and eventually to 440,000 a year. Implementation could come as soon as the Summer 2024 season, which begins at the end of March. A separate European Commission process on reducing noise at Schiphol could push off the aircraft movement reductions until the end of next year.
The ruling is a blow to KLM, which operates a large and successful hub at Schiphol. The airport has long been one of the most efficient for connecting travel in Europe. However, as the largest slot holder at Schiphol, KLM will be able to adjust its schedule to more efficiently use its remaining slots and could continue to grow by flying larger aircraft, similar to how British Airways expands at slot-constrained London Heathrow across the Channel. KLM already has an order for 100 Airbus A320neos and A321neos that will replace its smaller, older Boeing 737s.
In June, KLM CEO Marjan Rintel said they were “confident” in winning the appeal. The airline has proposed a three-prong program to reduce noise without reducing flights at Schiphol, including incentivizing the use of quieter, new-generation aircraft, and implementing new flight approaches to the airport that use modern technology to reduce the amount of time planes spend close to the ground.
KLM said Friday that it was “disappointed” with the ruling. “It is currently unclear when, how and in what way the ruling will be implemented and what it means for the number of aircraft movements at Schiphol,” the carrier added, saying it was still “studying” the decision.
Limits on Schiphol could push KLM-parent company Air France-KLM to shift some future growth to Air France and its Paris Charles de Gaulle hub. Air France CEO Anne Rigail said in March that the airline does not face physical limits or a cap on flights at its main hub; however, staffing levels and other recovery-related issues do limit the airline’s ability to add more flights at Charles de Gaulle.
Smaller airlines with a limited presence at Schiphol, but ambitions to grow, are likely to be hardest hit. Corendon Airlines, EasyJet, and TUI are likely to “suffer serious damage” from the reductions, the appeals court acknowledged in its decision. It could also impact JetBlue Airways’ ability to keep serving Schiphol after it fought to secure slots at the airport; the airline begins a daily flight to New York JFK in August.
Corendon CEO Steven van der Heijden told Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf that they will likely have to move flights away from Schiphol to other airports in the Netherlands.
“The fear of the airlines that they will suffer serious damage as a result of the proposed measures is no reason … to arrive at a different outcome,” the appeals court said Friday. It added that these fears, and threats to the future of Schiphol as a hub, did not outweigh the interests of local residents.
The full impact of the reductions will not be fully felt initially, because airlines are still in the process of rebuilding their pre-Covid capacity. Schiphol was far below the 500,000 annual movements cap last year with just under 400,000 movements, data from operator the Royal Schiphol Group show. That number is expected to rise this year but is unlikely to hit its 2019 peak of nearly 497,000 movements.
Separate from the government’s movement reductions, the Royal Schiphol Group plans to limit night flights at Schiphol. Its proposal would ban takeoffs from midnight to 6 a.m., and landings from midnight to 5 a.m. in an effort to reduce carbon emissions.