KLM and other airlines can fly their full schedules at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport next summer after the Dutch government backed down on plans to slash the number of flights there in an effort to reduce noise pollution.
The decision Tuesday from the Netherlands Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management Mark Harbers came after increasing pressure to stop the cuts from both European and foreign governments. Both the European Commission and U.S. Department of Transportation had threatened to take action against the Netherlands and its airlines, particularly KLM, for regulatory and treaty violations related to the flight reductions.
Harbers, in a letter to the lower chamber of the Dutch parliament, said he would continue to work to reduce noise pollution around Schiphol through the so-called “balance approach” under European Union law.
“It’s a choice between scrapping flights as a short-term solution or aiming for smart improvement,” KLM CEO Marjan Rintel said in June. She is a vocal supporter of the balanced approach to reducing noise at Schiphol.
The Dutch government planned to reduce aircraft movements — a landing or takeoff represents one movement — by about 8% from 2019 levels to 280,645 movements next summer. The airline’s summer scheduling season runs from the end of March through the end of October.
Airlines would need to slash 9,070 flights from their schedules, the Dutch slot coordinator Airport Coordination Netherlands (ACNL) said earlier in November. Those cuts would include the equivalent of 23 daily flights at KLM — the largest airline at Schiphol — and force JetBlue Airways to suspend flights to the airport next summer.
The Schiphol reductions were the result of years of Dutch government policy — but no official legislation — to cut noise pollution around the airport. The government of caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte in September chose to implement the flight cuts under an “experimental” regulation regime that allows the government to implement a policy on a temporary basis to measure effectiveness.
Rutte’s center-right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, which has been in power since 2010, faces a general election on November 22. The party has championed the issue of reducing noise pollution at Schiphol among voters.
The use of an experimental regulation was the basis for the EC, U.S., and airlines’ complaints against the policy. European Commissioner for Transport Adina Vălean described the measure as in “non-compliance with European regulations,” and the U.S. DOT had begun proceedings to determine whether the cuts were in violation of the U.S.-EU open-skies agreement. In fact, the reversal by Harbers came a day after his office met with U.S. officials on the matter.
The Dutch Supreme Court is also expected to hear a case on the legality of the flight cuts sometime around the end of the year with a decision expected in the first half of next year.
“KLM is satisfied that the Dutch government has decided to suspend the experimental rule for next year,” the airline said Tuesday. “It is an important step to prevent retaliation and to continue flying to the U.S.”
KLM, as well as its budget affiliate Transavia, has agreed to only fly the latest generation aircraft, including Boeing 787s, Embraer E-Jet-E2s, and soon new Airbus A321neos, at night. They will also not operate flights between midnight and 6 a.m. next summer to help meet the Dutch government’s noise reduction goal.
JetBlue on Tuesday described Harber’s decision as a “good first step” in ensuring access to Schiphol by new entrants.
“We now urge the Dutch government and all relevant stakeholders to ensure we have access for next summer,” the New York-based airline said. JetBlue serves Amsterdam daily from both Boston and New York JFK.
Not everyone was happy with the decision. The management of Schiphol said Tuesday that they were “disappointed” in the decision to suspend the experimental regulation.
“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 airport said. It added that without a clear policy in place, the reversal only created more “uncertainty” about future flight cuts for airlines.
This story was updated.