A judge has ruled in favour of IATA, KLM, and other airlines stating the Dutch Government cannot implement a limit at Schiphol airport, one of Europe’s busiest hubs, from 500,000 to 460,000 from November 2023.
The Dutch government sought to reduce emissions and noise pollution at the international airport but failed to conduct the appropriate checks and assessments before implementing the regulation. According to the Supreme Court judge, the State had not followed the correct procedure in introducing the proposed temporary regulation.
IATA Director General Willie Walsh said on the ruling:
“We welcome the judge’s decision. This case has been about upholding the law and international obligations. The judge has understood that the Dutch government violated its obligations in shortcutting processes that would bring scrutiny to its desire to cut flight numbers at Schiphol. This decision gives vital stability for this year to the airlines using Schiphol airport and maintains the choice and connectivity passengers value.”
Why Reduce Flight Numbers?
The Minister for Water and Infrastructure in the Dutch government coalition has taken note of the concerns raised by some residents, who are worried about the noise caused by flights. While local air quality and greenhouse gas emissions (nitrogen and CO2) have also been raised as concerns, they are not the driving force behind the reduction.
In a letter dated June 24, 2022, Minister Marc Harbers addressed the President of the House of Representatives in the Hague and explained that the objective is to reduce noise nuisance. However, the Minister also acknowledged that he has yet to conduct an investigation into noise nuisance or set a specific objective, which are both prerequisites before imposing such restrictions.
Why Did The Judge Rule In Favour of IATA?
According to EU Law, the State should attempt to identify various measures that can reduce noise pollution. The State must then consult all interested parties, and a reduction in the number of aircraft movements is only allowed if it is clear that other measures to limit noise pollution are insufficient.
This process has been started for the proposed reduction of the number of aircraft movements to 440,000 per year starting in the 2024/2025 season, but according to the Interim Injunction Judge, the Dutch Government did not follow this procedure for the temporary regulation to reduce the maximum number of allowed aircraft movements to 460,000 for the upcoming 2023/2024 season.
In a statement, KLM has stated they would rather cooperate than fight this battle in court, reiterating their commitment to reducing noise and environmental pollution:
“With our measures we see a better alternative for achieving less noise and CO2 while meeting travellers’ need to fly. We will demonstrate this in the next phase of this case, the EU’s Balanced Approach procedure. This will investigate whether noise levels can be reduced around Schiphol using methods other than those envisaged by the ministry. The balanced approach is about the best way to reduce the number of people affected by aircraft noise. To this end, we would like to continue cooperating with government, Schiphol and any other relevant parties.”
Green Charities Are Not Happy With The Result
ClientEarth and Fossielvrij, involved in a lawsuit against KLM over claimed greenwashing in their campaigns, said KLM’s opposition to the cap revealed further cracks in the airline’s climate promises.
Hiske Arts, campaigner at Fossielvrij, said:
“It is a huge disappointment that limiting aviation is being put on the back burner again, when we need to bring aviation to safer levels now, to protect the climate, local residents and nature.
In its own marketing, KLM pretends to be a climate hero but it has shown its true colours by fighting tooth and nail against climate action.
In a fortnight’s time, KLM will face us in court to defend its marketing on sustainable flying. KLM is using green publicity to protect its licence to grow. We are going to burst that bubble.”
Schiphol’s New Initiative
While Schiphol has not commented directly on the news, yesterday (4th April), the airport announced a green initiative to reduce noise pollution, including new rules to stop night flights taking off and landing between the hours of 00:00 and 05:00, scrapping plans for an additional runway, and approaching their policies with a ‘people first’ mentality.
Ruud Sondag, CEO Royal Schiphol Group said;
“Schiphol connects the Netherlands with the rest of the world. We want to keep doing that, but we must do it better. The only way forward is to become quieter and cleaner more rapidly. We have thought about growth but too little about its impact for too long.
We need to be sustainable for our employees, the local environment and the world. I realise that our choices may have significant implications for the aviation industry, but they are necessary. This shows we mean business. It is the only way, based on concrete measures, to regain the trust of employees, passengers, neighbours, politics and society.”