Amsterdam: old conflicts or new solutions?

His name is Barry Madlener, he is 54 years old and a leading politician of the far-right Dutch Party for Freedom (PVV). Since 01JUL24 he has also been Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management and is therefore responsible for the country’s airports, especially Schiphol, which accounts for 90% of commercial air traffic in the Netherlands. So far, he’s a blank slate – with no program, announcements or speech. Just nothing. However, his tasks are enormous.

Dutch Minister Barry Madlener of the right-wing party PVV is responsible for transport and infrastructure issues in the Netherlands,  courtesy: Rijksoverheid / Netherlands

In its election program, the PVV stresses that the party aims to dismantle state regulations and reduce environmental standards. This is likely to have consequences for Schiphol, critics warn. And the first opponents are already mobilizing. Just days before becoming minister, Mr. Madlener received a note from the city of Amsterdam, dated 25JUN24. It reads: “Amsterdam is sharpening its stance on Schiphol, calling for serious shrinkage to a maximum of 400,000 flights per year and a full night closure, immediately reducing emissions and impact on the environment.” The reasoning behind it: “Achieving a new balance between livability and economic interests will require a combination of fewer flight movements, innovation and pricing.”

From 500,000 movements down to 400,000
This move is likely to exacerbate the already highly controversial discussion about the future of air traffic at Schiphol. With their resolution, Amsterdam’s policymakers have rolled a big political lump to Madlener’s door, just as he sat down at his new desk for the first time. After this high-profile move by Hester van Buren, the Amsterdam city council representative responsible for finance, shipping and aviation, including Schiphol, and a member of the Partij van de Arbeid (Labor Party), the question arises as to whether Schiphol will become one of the central sources of conflict between the right-wing populist government and Dutch opposition parties. Since there is a lot of emotion involved, the topic is certainly suitable for a political showdown. The airport, the airlines and those employed at SPL would suffer.

Diplomatic task
But there is a moderator who wants to defuse the situation before it escalates politically: Maarten van As. He is the Managing Director of Air Cargo Netherlands (ACN). He advocates a constructive, solution-oriented discussion that requires a willingness to compromise but promises practical and long-term solutions. His suggestion: no night flight ban, no slot limit, but maintaining the 500,000 approved flights per year.

This is probably entirely in line with Minister Madlener and his PVV. Maarten’s offer to Hester van Buren and her party is somewhat more complex: the proportion of noisy aircraft is to be significantly reduced by 2026, or 2027 at the latest, through steering measures and fee increases. From that year onwards, a red line will be introduced, which would be tantamount to a ban on louder aircraft.

In order to create transparency for all sides, a list will be drawn up with the names of aircraft that emit little noise and are still permitted, as well as those that will no longer be allowed to fly to SPL due to high emissions come 2027. This timeline would also give airlines the opportunity to review their operational practices in order to gradually use low-noise aircraft on Schiphol routes. “It’s our proposition but nothing is carved in stone, and we are open for positive, progressive discussions with all sides involved,” emphasizes Mr. van As.

Maarten van As of Air Cargo Netherlands (ACN) advocates a constructive dialog with the new government to jointly solve the pending traffic issues harming Schiphol’s reputation – credit: Air Cargo Netherlands

Joint action agenda
He also says this against the background that freighter aircraft will have to go first in case of slot cuts. After all, they generate only little yields for the airport operators, in contrast to passenger airlines that spur the retail business.

Hence, his association’s appeal to all sides involved reads: It is time to come together to set old hurdles aside and to create a joint action agenda. By doing so, Dutch aviation becomes more sustainable, quieter and stronger, benefitting all parties involved.  Mr. van As adds to this: “That does not only mean that aviation should cause less nuisance, but also that aviation should remain accessible for everyone, including people who have less to spend. Also, important air cargo such as medicines, fresh products or high-tech equipment should continue to reach our country or be able to be shipped elsewhere through our airports.”

Now he is looking forward to Minister Medlener’s reaction to his association’s initiative.

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