Could the Collapse of the Dutch Government Stall Schiphol Flight Cuts?

DALLAS — Dutch politics took an unexpected swerve last week, which may have significant ramifications to the contentious planned capacity reduction at Amsterdam Schiphol (AMS).

It has been reported that the coalition government led by Prime Minister Mark Rutte has collapsed, due to irreconcilable differences between ruling political parties over the nation’s immigration policy. The Dutch political system is now languishing in the doldrums.

But why could this news be music to the ears of those that are opposed to the capacity cuts?

For now, it remains to be seen if the collapse of the government could be ‘too little too late’, following the government’s successful appeal last week to press on with the decrease in capacity. Nonetheless, such political disarray can only strike a favorable chord with the likes of home based carrier KLM (KL).

Despite some Dutch media outlets speculating that a snap general election could be planned for this fall, it should be borne in mind that politics in the Netherlands is an incredibly intricate affair.

Home carrier KLM stands to suffer the greatest from the proposed capacity cuts. Photo: Adrian Nowakowski/Airways

Puzzling Politics

A swathe of political parties cover a wide section of the Dutch political spectrum, which results in the wishes of a relatively small electorate, being spread across a broad base of political parties. This has led to coalition politics being the norm in the country for some time. This occurs when there is insufficient support for a single party. In turn, this requires two or more entities formulating a partnership to govern.

The reason why opponents to the cuts may have reason to cheer, lies in the time it will take for a new administration to be installed. The longer this process takes, the longer those fighting against the capacity cuts have to painstakingly explore legal avenues to halt the recent appeal, if possible. Until a new government is sworn in, the now-former administration fulfills a caretaker role. It is now left holding a deck of cards that gives it far less room to maneuver.

The government that has just collapsed took a staggering 10 months to establish and has disintegrated, after less than a year and a half at the helm. The protracted series of negotiations that were needed to appease all elements of the coalition at the outset, coupled with the relatively short time it took to fall apart like a deck of cards, serves as a reminder of the fragility of Dutch politics.

KLM routes served by smaller types stand the biggest chance of schedule consolidation. Photo: Alberto Cucini/Airways

Hidden Agenda?

With it being clear that different parties from the now-former government have some strongly opposing views on contentious issues, could it be the case that the proposed capacity cuts were simply an attractive political sound-byte? Perhaps nothing more than a strategic move by the dominant VVD party to pacify what was from the outset, a delicate union among the four ruling political parties? If the political landscape changes significantly, could that cause a shift in fortunes for AMS?

Following the initial announcement last year that the number of movements at AMS would be curbed, the government was forced by opponents to backtrack and undertake a consultation process that was in compliance with EU regulation 598/2014. In a consultation document that was published by the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, it stated that it is the ultimate goal would be to implement the proposed measures by November 2024.

Originally, the Dutch electorate was next due to visit the polling booths in 2025. Cynically speaking, could it be feasible that the proposed capacity cuts were conveniently choreographed to be implemented months before the electorate was next due to vote? Perhaps planned from the outset as a political trump card for the Rutte administration to use as leverage in future coalition talks after the previously anticipated 2025 election.

Could the secret to significant noise and pollution savings lie in wider use of Continious Descent Approach technology at AMS? Photo: Adrian Nowakowski/Airways

Continuous Descent Approaches

After examining the consultative paper, it evokes undertones that stress that capacity cuts are the only viable option. In doing so, it fails to seriously balance such a proposition with other potential viable alternatives.

For example, the paper made reference to the implementation of continuous descent approach (CDA) paths, which could save many tonnes of fuel each and every day. Yet, the Ministry declared that they only seek to implement CDA techniques during the hours of the night, which was portrayed as one of a collection of alternative solutions. It begs the question of why such a potent initiative, which could save many tonnes of emissions each day, was not pushed to its fullest potential.

For every CDA that is flown, it’s generally accepted that fuel savings for narrow-body aircraft can be measured in the tens of kilograms. However, for wide-body aircraft, the savings are said to be measured in the hundreds. Therefore, the reductions in noise and emissions can be enormous at an airport like AMS, which has a relentless stream of arriving aircraft during the day.

Numerous other airlines have joined KLM in objecting to the capacity cuts, such as TUI fly Netherlands (OR). Photo: Adrian Nowakowski/Airways

Scope For Improvement

When landing aircraft are being sequenced to fly alongside one another on parallel approaches, Air Traffic Controllers at AMS vertically separate aircraft as they approach one another until they are aligned with their respective runway for landing. This layering of aircraft as they fly perpendicular to the runway centreline, means that optimum descent paths are not achieved. In turn, it can be required to descend early and fly at a lower altitude for longer. This leaves a bigger pollution and emissions footprint on local communities.

In the consultation paper, the Dutch government conceded that the proposed cutbacks will have a profound economic impact. But it stressed that these cuts are necessary since they deliver the desired environmental objectives. Could investment in more efficient research and testing of more efficient flight trajectories, be economically balanced against the softer financial impact of fewer flights disappearing?

Having political uncertainty is rarely viewed with enthusiasm, but perhaps the sputtering of the Dutch political engine could prove to be a welcome intermission. Irrespective of if the motive behind the capacity cuts is environmentally or politically driven, the clock may have just stopped at an opportune moment for those at odds with the downsizing plans.

Featured image: Overlooking Runway 06/24 towards the distinctive control tower at AMS. Photo: Adrian Nowakowski/Airways


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