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Dutch court blocks plans to cut Schiphol Airport flights

April 5, 2023

A Dutch court overruled a government plan to cap flights at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport, one of Europe's busiest aviation hubs. The decision is a blow to efforts to reduce CO2 emissions and noise pollution.

Niederlande, Amsterdam | Flughafen Schiphol
Major airlines, including KLM, Delta and EasyJet, took the Dutch government to court in MarchImage: Robin Utrecht/picture alliance

The court decision comes a day after the airport announced plans to phase out all flights between midnight and 5 a.m. and ban private jets and noisier planes, starting some of the measures this November. 

These measures were proposed in February to combat noise pollution and CO2 emissions.  Major airlines appealed, arguing they had not been consulted.

Wednesday's decision means that "Schiphol may not reduce the maximum number of flights to 460,000 for the coming season," the court said in a statement. Currently the airport serves around 500,000 flights each year.

Why has the court overruled the ban?

The ruling is a response to major airlines, including KLM, Delta and EasyJet, taking the government to court last month, saying that introducing flight limits at Schiphol would harm Dutch economy and travelers. 

KLM has criticized the government's proposed cuts, saying that it had already made investments on the basis of a 500,000 cap on flights agreed in 2015.

In its decision on Wednesday, the Noord Holland District Court said the government had "not followed the correct procedure" in deciding to reduce flight numbers. The government didn't follow EU rules on consulting stakeholders, including airlines, according to the judge.

Lawyers and the judge inside the court where the Aviation Industry is instituting summary proceedings against the government over plans to limit flights at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport for environmental reasons in Haarlem on March 21, 2023
The Dutch court ruled that the government did not follow the correct procedure when it called on Schiphol to reduce flight numbersImage: Remko de Waal/ANP/AFP/Getty Images

KLM said it was satisfied with the court's decision and believed that noise levels and other types of pollution could be reduced in other ways. The airline has said it plans measures that offer "a better alternative for achieving less noise and CO2 while meeting travelers' need to fly."

Environmental organizations disappointed

Several environmental groups issued a joint statement in response to the court decision.

"Major polluter KLM is giving a slap in the face to local residents, the climate and the government that saved the company from bankruptcy," groups including Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth said. 

KLM received a bailout from the Dutch government, like a great many major airlines, after passenger numbers plunged during the pandemic.

Fewer flights are needed to combat global warming, according to the groups. "This ruling may lead to delay, but the shrinking of Schiphol is coming," they said.

Dutch government undecided on actions

The Netherlands' Transport Ministry responsible for aviation said it was considering its next steps.

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," it said in a written reaction to the court ruling.

Schiphol Airport is one of Europe's busiest air hubs and a major employer in the Netherlands. 

Last year, Schiphol imposed stricter daily passenger limits at the airport because of ongoing staffing shortages.

vh/msh (AP, Reuters, AFP)