The Dutch government’s plan to reduce the number of flights allowed at Schiphol airport next winter has been found to be against EU rules by a court in the Netherlands.
The airport was due to reduce annual flight numbers from 500,000 to 460,000 later this year as part of the government’s environmental policies.
But a Dutch court on Wednesday (5 April) ruled that the government’s decision broke EU rules after a group of airlines, including KLM, took legal action against the “unilateral” reduction in flights at Schiphol.
A judge at the court in Haarlem said that the Dutch government did not follow the correct procedure when telling Schiphol to temporarily reduce flights to 460,000 per year from the start of the winter 2023-24 schedule on 1 November 2023.
“The state must identify various measures that can reduce noise pollution and consult all stakeholders,” said the court in a statement. “A reduction in the number of aircraft movements is only allowed when it is clear that other noise mitigation measures do not work sufficiently well.”
This ruling only applies to the temporary reduction in flights for next winter, rather than the government’s stated policy to cut capacity at Schiphol to 440,000 services per year from the start of the winter 2024-25 season.
KLM said in a statement that the judgement meant that the “number of aircraft movements cannot be reduced to 460,000 by the start of the winter schedule”.
“We would rather co-operate with the other parties than face them in court,” added KLM. “We were unfortunately forced to file these preliminary relief proceedings to get clarity; the capacity for the coming winter will be determined at the beginning of May. With this verdict, we have clarity.”
IATA’s director general Willie Walsh also welcomed the court’s decision and said it would give “vital stability for this year to the airlines using Schiphol airport”.
“Winning this vital reprieve is good news for Schiphol’s passengers, Dutch businesses, the Dutch economy and airlines,” said Walsh. “But the job is not done. The threat of flight cuts at Schiphol remains very real and is still the stated policy of the government. Schiphol airport themselves yesterday announced night flight cuts without consultation.”
The court’s decision came just one day after Schiphol announced a separate plan to ban night flights and private jets from 2025 as a way of further reducing noise and emissions.
The Dutch government said in a statement that it would be studying the court ruling and considering its next steps.
The government added that it was “striving to find a new balance between the interests of residents and the living environment on the one hand and the economic importance of Schiphol for the Netherlands on the other”.
KLM said that it would show in the next phase of the legal case that there was a “better alternative” for reducing noise and CO2 emissions than imposing flight reductions at Schiphol.
“This will investigate whether noise levels can be reduced around Schiphol using methods other than those envisaged by the ministry,” added the airline.
“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.”