Search This Blog

Saturday, 30 September 2017

The interests of Schiphol Amsterdam Airport and the Dutch economy are not synonymous, even though Schiphol tries to make us believe that.

It was quite conspicuous news last week, except for the fact that it wasn’t… for all those who know the situation around Schiphol Amsterdam Airport:

Due to the deployment of new European calculation rules for noise pollution, the airport was allowed to grow with a significant number of slots per annum. At least, according to an environment effects report (i.e. MER in Dutch), researched and published on behalf of the airport itself. The following article is from news broadcaster NOS:

Additional annual growth in flight movements is demonstrably possible for Schiphol, according to the airport itself. The calculations show, according to Schiphol, that it is possible to grow “in a sustainable and safe way”, as the airport is now well under the agreed norm of noise pollution.

The data are mentioned in the Environmental Effect Report (MER), that Schiphol had to publish,commissioned by the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment (Ministry of I&M).

Today Schiphol presented the data to representatives of the neighbouring people, officials from the region and the airtransport industry. Based upon the conclusions in this report, these parties all hope to make agreements about the growth of Schiphol after 2020.

According to the MER, the number of houses that is dealing with excessive noise pollution has since 2015 increased to 11,000 from 10,100 (based upon the forecasted 500,000 flights per year). The agreed norm was 13,600, so the noise pollution would remain 19% below this very norm.

And according to the same calculations the number of people that suffers from serious noise pollution, caused by air transport, is 117,500. That is well below the norm of 166,500. Based upon these figures, Schiphol concluded that there is ample room for growth.

I truly hope that these data and the new EU calculation methods used in this MER report are indeed reliable and trustworthy, even though I have my doubts. Nevertheless, during the last decades, there was always one constant factor in the economic, political and legal treatment of Schiphol Amsterdam Airport:

Schiphol shall grow. Always and eternally. It does not matter how it grows, as long as it grows. When the existing norms for safety and noise pollution hamper growth, we will use new norms or new ways of measuring pollution. Whatever. It. Takes. 

When inhabitants of the region around Schiphol complain, they will be shut up with money, beads and mirrors. Or we will make them suffer in the court of law.

If business people and non-related companies have different plans for the building ground surrounding Schiphol, we will start expropriation procedures based upon safety constraints, pollution constraints or whatever we will come up with. The Dutch government will always be Schiphol’s henchman-of-last-resort, in case the sh*t hits the fan. Schiphol will win! Period!” 

Yet, the state secretary for Infrastructure & Environment, Sharon Dijksma, was not pleased with the conclusions of the MER Report presented by Schiphol, which she declared to be premature. But not for the reason that Schiphol’s conclusions about the environmental effects or the noise pollution were wrong or fouled. 

No, she was rather worried about premature conclusions by the Dutch people regarding that other “hobby project to release Schiphol from excess travellers”, Lelystad Airport.

Lelystad Airport, which is currently developed from being a local airport for private “hobby” planes into an international airport to be opened in 2019 and mainly focussed at the handling of holiday charter planes, is meant to be an overflow valve for Schiphol. 

By taking away the “cheapskate” charter flights from Schiphol towards Lelystad, Schiphol itself will get more room for the cherished growth of the lucrative and prestigious transit flights. So they think. And the Dutch government thinks this as well.

This was the reason that State Secretary Dijksma was not amused (the following thoughts of her are written by me): 

What if the world would think that the whole Lelystad Airport was not necessary after all?! Or even worse, that it would be a “dead on arrival”, waste of money project?! Hated by the charter companies (its future clients) and hated by the people in the surrounding, rural areas, who would now suffer from excess noise pollution and exhaust pollution in their nature-laden living space.

That would be bad news, wouldn't it...?!

Sharon Dijksma reacted to the boasting of Schiphol about future growth possibillities in a parliamentary debate:”Why now? It is thoughtless to do this now! This paints a picture that Schiphol can grow eternally and that Lelystad is not necessary”. She suggested in the debate that the MER was not ready yet and lacked the cohesion with other topics.

State secretary Dijksma reacts here like a small child of which a favorite toy is taken away by its parents:
  • Not a word by State Secretary Dijksma about the fact that the increased noise and air pollution of continued growth for Schiphol is bad for the people, living in North and South Holland. Or the people living in the take off and landing zone of Lelystad Airport, as a matter of fact.
  • Not a word about the enhanced safety risks that Schiphol’s growth has to offer for the region and the airport itself. Or that Lelystad Airport poses.
  • No, everything she states is about the risk that her hobby project “Lelystad Airport” would turn into a (financial) disaster. A monstrosity that nobody really likes, but that is built anyway [which it very well might be after all – EL]. 
This proves the eternal shortsightedness of the Dutch government, in case of Schiphol and its growth figures.

The fact that Schiphol has already some serious issues with the current influx of flights and passengers, is not incorporated in the overly optimistic growth plans for the following ten years. Nevertheless, the writing is already on the wall, according to Het FD:

Overloaded parkings, endless queues and dozens of passengers missing their flights. The start of the May holiday was chaotically at Schiphol. And it stays crowded: the coming months the airport expects about 100 peak days with 200,000 passengers each.

This snippet is symptomatic for the situation at Schiphol, where the passenger, security and safety infrastructure can’t keep up with the excessive ambitions of the management.

At this moment the airport is seemingly experiencing “peak load”, which makes it nearly impossible to reach further growth without taking some drastical countermeasures to reduce overcrowdedness.

And there is more: The Netherlands is one of the most densely crowded countries in the world and already has a vast airtraffic network. The addition of Lelystad Airport and the tens of thousands of flight movements this will cause eventually, is already a conundrum for the Air Traffic Control. 

Addition of roughly 20,000 extra flights per year on Schiphol itself, on top of that, will make this conundrum extremely hard to solve and will inevitably lead to enhanced safety risks and more ‘near misses’ in the air, not even to think about worse incidents with casualties.

That Schiphol and The Netherlands have only experienced a few flight disasters with more than 10 casualties (f.i. the Bijlmer disaster in 1992 or the Turkish Airlines accident in 2008) is probably rather a question of sheer luck than of strategic insights and appropriate counter measures.

Airplane accidents tend to follow statistics in the end. The higher the number of flight movements is, the higher is the risk for fatal accidents. And fatal accidents in densely populated areas carry more risk for elevated levels of casualties than in scarsely populated areas. There is no bargaining with such basic statistical rules.

Nevertheless, Schiphol is – together with Rotterdam World Port – targeted as mainport in The Netherlands by the Dutch government. 

That means that Schiphol is considered a strategic asset, with respect to labour supply, international political and business relations and economic growth. In the past, government officials have decided that Schiphol should be a pivot point for international air traffic (transit flights) and (as such) one of the largest and most importants airports in Europe.

That the competition with the airports of Dubai and Istanbul for transit flights is almost impossible to beat (due to vast state subsidies in their host countries) and that The Netherlands is probably not fit for hosting such a crowded airport, does not matter.

Schiphol is paramount for the Dutch economy – so they say – and its growth should not be hampered at all, or else… 

This is an almost religious belief among goverment officials, lobby groups and Schiphol itself. And Lelystad Airport, which will partially destroy a few of the most beautiful nature areas in The Netherlands with its strongly increased air and noise pollution, is part of this scheme.

Exactly this makes it nearly impossible to have a fair discussion about the pros and cons of such dense air traffic in The Netherlands, as it always falls on deaf ears with the government and the lobby groups. That is… until another catastrophic air accident with dozens of casualties occurs. Let us hope that does not happen.

Until such a dramatic event occurs in reality, it is time to reconsider the desirability of such heavy airtraffic in such a densely populated country, as someone has to do that and draw his conclusions. 

Schiphol’s interests are not synonymous to the interests of the Dutch population, even though Schiphol is trying to make us believe that.

But that person will probably not be part of the Dutch government. Slim chance… 

No comments:

Post a Comment