Mistrust prevails the debate on future of air cargo in the Netherlands

Frustration is growing within the Dutch air cargo community as the comprehensive ‘10 commitments plan’ presented by 31 parties earlier this year is not taken seriously – neither by the government nor by the airport. According to Maarten van As, Managing Director of Air Cargo Netherlands (ACN), the lack of trust between the stakeholders is apparent.

ACN was one of the parties endorsing the plan, which was designed to make the aviation industry in the Netherlands future-proof. Apart from ACN, the plan was also signed by knowledge institutions, carriers, trade unions and the manufacturing industry.

Schiphol’s own ‘8-point plan’ is no more than a trial balloon, claims Maarten van As, Managing Director Air Cargo Netherlands – courtesy: ACN
  • A good balance with the surrounding area
  • Keeping the Netherlands connected to the rest of the world
  • Keeping aviation accessible to all Dutch people
  • A stronger global and European policy
  • Securing Netherlands’s role as forerunner in production, logistics and purchase of sustainable fuels (SAF)
  • Achieving the climate goals for 2030 and being on the right path to Net Zero Co² in 2050
  • Increasing the number of international trains and thus securing excellent connectivity to Schiphol
  • Increasing the recycling rate and lowering the waste produced by the aviation industry
  • Reducing aviation noise further both during the day and at night
  • Enabling faster market access for innovative solutions, such as electric and hydrogen flying
  • Preserving Schiphol’s role as a sought-after and safe working place.

Strengthening, not reducing Schiphol’s role as air cargo hub
Earlier this month, the 10 commitments scheme was discussed in The Hague with the Parliamentary Commission Infrastructure and Water Management (I&W). Since the latest election in November 2023, the make-up of this commission has changed considerably, with the accession of new I&W spokespeople and members of two new parties which will probably be part of the right-leaning coalition that is expected to rule the country.

At the The Hague meeting, ACN and the shippers’ organization, evofenedex, once again stressed the importance of Schiphol as a leading European air cargo hub, arguing that both a reduction of the number of movements and a night flight ban would seriously harm its role. It would, moreover, jeopardize the interests of Netherlands-based companies that depend on an international value chain, utilizing air cargo as important mode of transportation. This holistic view was endorsed by representatives of leading companies participating in the discussion.

Stillborn government plan
The plan was drawn up to provide an answer to the plans of the Dutch government to tackle the problem through a reduction of the number of movements at the airport as well as imposing a night curfew, which turned out to be stillborn, commented Maarten van As.

“The proposed movement cap has not only triggered off a huge social debate, but has also brought a number of legal procedures in its wake. In June 2022, I&W Minister Mark Harbers suggested a cap on the number of movements to reduce the noise pollution for the surrounding area. Very soon, we made it clear that the proposed path he wanted to take would not be legally feasible.”

“The way in which he informed the European Commission on the balanced approach and the proposed cap, turned out to be wrong. Also, the introduction of a temporary rule at first ok’d by the Amsterdam Court, seems to have run aground at the Supreme Court after a critical ruling by the Advocate General.”

“Very painful indeed, not only for the minister and his advisors, but especially as it has led to a situation of parties standing back-to-back. Residents at first felt supported by the ministers, but now have the feeling of being let down by the government and the industry. On top of this, there’s the airport with its own ‘8-point plan’ which, in the eyes of the residents, has turned out to be no more than a trial balloon. In one word: every form of direction is lacking.”

Total lack of trust
Mr van Asrepeats that the 10-commitment plan presented earlier this year, clearly demonstrates that all the minister’s policy aims can be met. “But to our great astonishment, it is still not taken seriously by neither the ministry nor the airport, who are still fixated on ‘flying less’,” he sighs.

“That was the reason for the recent meeting at The Hague at which all signatories to the plan demonstrated that there is a solution that does not harm the position of Schiphol and the companies in the Netherlands.”

“Personally, I think that, at the moment, the debate has ended up in a total lack of trust between the different parties (ministry, Schiphol, residents and the aviation industry). As long as we do not work this out, it will become very difficult.”

Mr. van As thinks thatpart of the problem may be rooted in the Protestant way of reasoning ingrained in the mentality of the Northern Netherlands. “A solution involving ‘pain and penance’ will always be favored over a solution without ‘pain and penance’,” he says.

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