The International Air Transport Association (IATA), European Business Aviation Association (EBAA), and European Regions Airline Association (ERA) have all blasted the Dutch government's move to go ahead with its earlier plan to reduce Schiphol airport's capacity.
The aviation groups warned that the proposed cuts to flight numbers at Schiphol airport "must not proceed" under the leadership of a caretaker government.
Controversial capacity cuts
In a joint statement, IATA, EBAA and ERA said the matter remains before the courts and the proposed process is "strongly opposed" by the airline industry; therefore, in no way can this be considered uncontroversial.
"In a few months' time, this government will not be accountable for the severe consequences that may follow from the Schiphol decision, particularly with respect to relations with the Netherlands' trading partners, and lost jobs and prosperity at home," the statement read, adding that such a consequential and controversial move requires proper democratic scrutiny and political accountability.
The aviation group noted that the government's desire for a forced cut to Schiphol's annual flight numbers to 460,000 under an "Experimental Regulation" was initially blocked by the Dutch court, which found it to be contrary to Dutch obligations under EU law and bilateral air services agreements connected with the Balanced Approach to noise.
The Balanced Approach is a longstanding internationally agreed process to manage noise at airport communities that carries the weight of law in national jurisdictions, including in the EU and many of its trading partners.
The aviation groups pointed to a core tenet of the Balanced Approach that operational restrictions and flight cuts are the "last resort," to be considered only when a number of other steps have been taken to achieve noise mitigation targets.
IATA, EBAA and ERA noted that the government successfully appealed and overturned the initial decision, with the Court of Appeal deciding that the Balanced Approach does not apply to the Experimental Regulation.
Capacity cuts "irresponsible" move
"The international airline community, represented by IATA, other airline associations and individual carriers, is deeply concerned by the implications of this highly controversial decision," the airline associations said, adding that the coalition of airlines and associations has commenced Supreme Court cassation proceedings challenging this.
The groups pointed out that flight cuts of this magnitude at Schiphol will mean reductions in slot holdings that will negatively impact passenger and freight services.
"No mechanism, domestic or international, exists for agreeing such cuts. Rushing this process through could result in retaliatory international action and further legal challenges, including from governments defending their rights under international agreements and bilateral treaties," IATA, EBAA and ERA said in the statement.
In such circumstances, the groups noted that any attempt by Minister [Mark] Harbers of the Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management and a "failed government in caretaker mode" to rush through the flight cuts at Schiphol would be "irresponsible on several levels."
The aviation groups added that such a move would "demonstrate a contempt of the necessary democratic and legal scrutiny required of such a highly irregular and economically damaging proposal."
It will also place the Netherlands squarely in conflict with its trading partners, defending their rights under international agreements and bilateral treaties, among others.
"Airlines are fully committed to addressing noise issues at airports under a proper Balanced Approach process. It is essential that any decision be postponed until a fully functioning and accountable government with a fresh mandate is in place," said Willie Walsh, IATA's Director General.
"This unprecedented and complex proposal can then be considered carefully, with the legal questions settled and the full facts and implications understood and in the public domain, and with sufficient time for the air transport industry to adapt if necessary when a final decision is known," he added.
IATA said in March that Schiphol Airport is already restricted to 500,000 flights annually.
It added that the Dutch government's decree would renege on that agreement, reducing Schiphol connectivity to 460,000 flights from November 2023.