NEW YORK- The Dutch government, succumbing to pressure from the USA, Canada, and the European Union, has reluctantly halted plans to reduce the number of flights at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (AMS) next summer.
While the aviation industry welcomes the government’s reversal, the suspension doesn’t guarantee the availability of as many slots at Schiphol in the upcoming summer as there were in the summer of 2023.
JetBlue to Lose Amsterdam Slots
JetBlue Airways (B6), which commenced operations in Amsterdam in August and had lodged a complaint with the US Department of Transportation against the proposed flight caps, faced the risk of losing its slots at the Dutch hub next summer under the original plan.
Despite the suspension, Hugo Thomassen, managing director of Airport Coordination Netherlands (ACNL), responsible for slot distribution at Schiphol, told Runway Girl Network that this outcome is still possible.
He explains, “It is possible that AMS will declare [fewer] slots than last summer. That’s up to the airport. In case AMS declares more slots, 24 airlines, including JetBlue, can claim these slots. ANCL will then have to apply the priority of the European Slot Regulation to decide which airlines get slots. JetBlue may well not be among them.” Thomassen concludes, “All in all, there is no certainty on JetBlue for AMS now.”
According to a spokesperson from JetBlue, the Dutch government has “taken a positive initial step” by agreeing to suspend its plan. The airline is committed to advocating for airport access in the upcoming summer.
The spokesperson further states, “We now urge the Dutch government and all relevant stakeholders to ensure we have access for next summer so we can continue to bring JetBlue’s low fares and great service to Amsterdam.”
Suspension of Flight Caps Amid Pressure
In a letter dated November 14 addressed to the Dutch parliament, Infrastructure Minister Mark Harbers conveyed his regrettable decision to suspend the plan, characterizing the reversal as a “bitter pill” to swallow.
Harbers elaborated that the US Department of Transportation (DOT) had initiated “countermeasures” against the plan, and Adina Valean, the EU Transport Commissioner, had raised “serious concerns” about the compliance of the proposed flight caps with European law.
This suspension marks the latest episode in an ongoing struggle by the government to scale down operations at Schiphol with the aim of mitigating aircraft noise and emissions.
Amidst strong opposition and ongoing legal proceedings from airlines, the caretaker government of the Netherlands submitted its plan in early September to cap flights at the hub to the European Commission for approval through the ‘Balanced Approach’ procedure.
The proposed plan aimed to limit flights to and from Schiphol to 452,500 starting from the beginning of the 2024 summer season. Initially, the government had suggested a maximum of 440,000 flights per year, down from the existing limit of 500,000.
In July, a coalition of airlines, including KLM Group, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, EasyJet, and JetBlue, supported by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and Airlines for Europe, initiated “cassation proceedings” at the Netherlands Supreme Court.
Their objective was to challenge an appellate court’s prior ruling that allowed the proposed flight caps to proceed. According to Harbers’ recent letter to parliament, the Supreme Court’s judgment is not anticipated before the second quarter of 2024.
Airlines Supporting New Decision
Airlines have welcomed the Dutch government’s reversal. IATA Director General Willie Walsh expresses,
“We welcome this outbreak of common sense from the Dutch government. Maintaining Schiphol’s capacity is good news for jobs, the economy, traveler choice and convenience, and better trade relations.”
KLM, in response, expresses its satisfaction with the government’s decision to suspend the plans. The airline emphasizes the importance of preventing retaliation and ensuring continued flights to the US.
Additionally, KLM notes that the European Commission’s signal to follow a careful legal process according to the Balanced Approach is clear.
However, Schiphol expresses disappointment in the move, stating that it puts local residents at a disadvantage and introduces more uncertainty for both residents and the aviation sector.
The upcoming general election in the Netherlands on November 22 adds to the uncertainty. Notably, former EU climate commissioner Frans Timmermans, a strong contender in the polls, is running for office.
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