In a recent ruling, the Amsterdam Court of Appeal overturned a previous decision and granted the Dutch government the power to significantly reduce the number of flight movements at Schiphol Airport to address noise disturbances in the surrounding area. According to the NL Times, the Dutch State will now be able to cut 40,000 flights per year, bringing the total annual number of flights to 460,000.
The ruling allows the government to proceed with its plans for the 2023-2024 travel season, with an additional 20,000 flights set to be reduced the following year. Airport authorities and passenger airlines had raised concerns about the lack of notice and the absence of an opportunity to propose their own solutions.
The Appeals Court acknowledged the government’s failure to address noise limit violations that had been ongoing for eight years since 2015. The court emphasized that the airlines cannot maintain the “illegal situation” that the State tolerated without any changes.
A lower court ruling in April stated that the government’s two proposals did not comply with national and European laws. The first proposal aimed to enforce noise limit violations more strictly based on runway usage, while the second involved a one-year experiment with different noise reduction rules and combinations.
“The proposed measures will partially determine the number of permitted air transport movements to and from Schiphol. A statutory maximum only applies to night flights,” summarized the Court, reflecting the government’s position. The lower court believed that the Dutch State should have followed a “balanced approach” procedure based on the European Noise Ordinance to assess the operational impact. However, the Appeals Court clarified that the balanced approach only applies to more permanent measures.
Since the government’s proposals are considered “temporary and short-term experiments in preparation for potential future adjustments to the applicable noise regulations,” the Appeals Court concluded that the European rule does not apply.
The coalition agreement forming Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s third and fourth Cabinets emphasized the importance of reducing nuisances and improving the quality of life around the airport, particularly concerning noise pollution and air quality. The agreement aimed to strike a better balance between the interests of Schiphol Airport, stakeholders including airlines, and the local residents. Consequently, the maximum number of flight movements was set below 500,000, ultimately settling on 460,000.
The Dutch State holds a 70% ownership stake in the Royal Schiphol Group and 9.3% in the Air France – KLM Group, which includes major airlines operating at Schiphol such as KLM and Transavia.
Schiphol Airport has already announced plans to eliminate all overnight flights by the end of 2025 and will explore the possibility of achieving this by the end of 2024. This decision will prohibit commercial passenger and cargo flights from departing between midnight and 6 a.m., as well as non-emergency landings between midnight and 5 a.m. This measure alone will result in the elimination of approximately 10,000 flights annually.
Transavia, which maximises aircraft utilisation, and EasyJet, the third-largest airline at Schiphol following a similar model, may be most affected by this ruling.
Additionally, discontinuing most private passenger flights could eliminate around 17,000 more flights at Schiphol, with exceptions expected for police helicopters, medical team helicopters, and the Coast Guard.