Written by Eric Lombard While the aviation sector and governments promise a new era of “sustainable” aviation fuels (SAF), we know that it will divert much-needed resources away from other sectors and take decades to happen, if at all. Yet there is an efficient way to...
Victory! Schiphol Will Shut Down at Night
Originally published in Dutch by our member SchipholWatch, on 3rd of April 2023
The years-long battle against Schiphol’s nuisance is beginning to bear fruits. Schiphol is going to shut down at night. This is what interim chief executive Ruud Sondag told the Algemeen Dagblad (AD) this evening. Additionally, the noisiest aircrafts will be banned and business jets will have to seek refuge elsewhere.
This is a major victory for all the local residents, who have been fighting for years against the inhuman disturbance of one of Europe’s largest airports, standing in the middle of one of Europe’s busiest areas.
Schiphol’s night-time lockdown means an end to the unhealthy situation that has been causing people to lie awake for nights on end because of air traffic noise, often several nights in a row.
The pressure exerted on Schiphol through the media, citizen initiatives like SchipholWatch, as well as local and national politicians left no choice to top executive Sondag but to announce steps that would finally achieve a reduction to the nuisance.
Sleeping between 12 and 5
The plan is now to close Schiphol completely between 12 am and 5 am. Between five and six in the morning, only landings will be allowed, with take-offs only happening from six onwards. According to the company, this will reduce the number of seriously affected residents by 17,500. This night-time curfew will improve the sleep for 13,000 local residents. That is over 50 per cent less people suffering from this nuisance than now.
“We don’t want any exceptions, not even for flights that are delayed in the evening or arrive earlier in the morning,” said top executive Sondag. “Those will have to wait, we will just be closed then. Flights will only be able to land at night for safety reasons.”
“The inconvenience of night flights has been on the menu since 2008. Not enough has ever been done about it. We see the problems surrounding night flights rising year in, year out. When the risks rise, you have to do something about it. Now we cutting them short.”
Night curfew by the end of 2025, the latest
According to Sondag, the night measure will go into effect at once. “By the end of 2025 at the latest, but sooner as far as I am concerned. We have to discuss that with the airlines because it will have quite an impact.”
Sondag realises that holiday flights may become more expensive due to the ban on night flights. “That is the dilemma of balancing the interests of holidaymakers with those of local residents. We cannot ask people living in the region for years to make sacrifices just for the sake of holiday tickets.”
Schiphol’s announcement comes as a complete surprise to many stakeholders.
“This move – if true – indicates that Schiphol has finally realised that it has overplayed its hand and is now trying to salvage what can be salvaged. Good news for the surrounding area. And now let’s continue to press on for reducing aviation,” said MP Lammert van Raan (Party for the Animals) who, together with local residents, has been fighting Schiphol’s nuisance and pollution for years.
Suzanne Kröger, member of the House of Representatives on behalf of the Green Left, reacted with delight. “This is a nice success. I have been advocating a stop to night flights for years, I wrote a bill for that. It is fantastic that people in the region will now be granted a healthy night’s sleep.” However, she want to expect for the plans to come true. “See it to believe it.”
No more backtracking
Alfred Blokhuizen, chairman of SchipholWatch as well as residents’ association BTV-Rotterdam, is also optimist. “This win for the wider Schiphol area has been sealed. Top man Sondag cannot backtrack now. It is the first time in history that Schiphol really takes its neighbours into account.” Blokhuizen has one caveat: “We must make sure that night flights are not transferred to regional airports.”
Apart from a curfew on night flights, director Sondag – himself living under the flight path of the increasingly used Eastern runway – wants to ban the noisiest aircrafts “step by step”. From November this year, 747 Jumbo jets, among others, will become less and less welcome at the Amsterdam airport.
“From 1 November, the biggest noisemakers will no longer be allowed to come here. We are already discussing this with the airlines. This measure will be targeted at the aircrafts that score highest in complaints from local residents,” the Schiphol director told AD.
“As a company, we no longer want to announce ambitions, but concrete measures,” Sondag told the AD. “I think it is important for Schiphol to express its opinion independently; as a neighbour in the region, as a state-owned company and as a party in the aviation sector.”
Business jets gone
Part of the plans includes a ban on business jets. These should seek refuge elsewhere, Sondag believes. It is a great result from the actions by Extinction Rebellion, which a few months ago blocked the area where the business jets are parked.
“From the end of 2025, we want to get rid of the 17,000 business flights a year. Half of these are not even business flights, but headed to holiday destinations. The remaining ones are destined to business destinations where a lot of normal flights already go.”
“Per passenger, a business jet causes two-and-a-half times more noise than a commencial flight and 20 times more emissions. We have to do something about that,” Sondag said. “The nuisance from those private jets is concentrated on a small area, that includes the inner city of Amsterdam.”
Lelystad still to open
Despite the fine intentions for Schiphol, the top executive is still on course to opening Lelystad Airport, but not for Schiphol’s banned business jets. Just exactly for what, was not made clear in the interview.
Apart from measures to cut noise, Sondag also wants to take concrete measures to combat climate change, although he does not yet know which. “On climate we are still brooding. We will eventually come up with concrete proposals on emissions in line with the Paris Agreement.”
This is a refreshing sound after more than 30 years of Shipholing – lying and deceiving on the basis of false information. Director Sondag also admits this: “We have not listened to local residents for too long. I think it is important to lay down clear measures and stick to them. That’s an approach more suited to these times,” noted journalist Herman Stil of the AD.
“Terms like ‘balanced approaches’ and ‘experimental regulations’ now being used in discussions on reduction mean nothing at all to people. What should local residents do with all these terms all of which seem to be about appeasement? What we are doing now is our new tune.”
Schiphol will not make friends in the rest of the flying industry with this new policy. There is a good chance that airlines will fight this line from Schiphol tooth and nail, invoking major economic interests. It is bright, bold and necessary that Schiphol is nevertheless implementing this policy.
Not clear from Ruud Sondag’s story is whether giving up night flights is a sacrifice in order to grow back to 500,000 flights a year or even more. If this is the case, then cancelling night flights is good for the sleep of tens of thousands of local residents, but does nothing to help the climate, the environment or nature. Time will tell.
SchipholWatch thanks all fellow fighters for their tireless efforts. Some organisations and individuals have been working on this for decades, others for ‘only’ a few years. That we have collectively achieved this turnaround in Schiphol’s policy is worthy of congratulations. On to a better future.
We cordially invite Ruud Sondag to email us so that we can send him a box of champagne.