DOT says Amsterdam Schiphol's plan to reduce flying violates Open Skies treaty

The U.S. Department of Transportation has found a Netherlands government plan to reduce flying at Amsterdam Schiphol airport to be in violation of the of the Open Skies aviation treaty that the U.S. has in in place with the EU.

“The department will engage the government of the Netherlands and the European Commission on this matter in consultations on Nov. 13,” the DOT said in an order on Thursday. “It is our hope that these consultations will result in meaningful progress toward resolution, without our needing to pursue further regulatory action.

“However, should consultations fail to produce a meaningful path toward resolving the matter in a timely and satisfactory fashion, the department stands ready to consider any further action that may be appropriate.”

The order came in the immediate aftermath of an announcement by Airport Coordination Netherlands, which oversees landing and arrival slots at Schiphol Airport, that JetBlue won’t be allocated Schiphol slots for the 2024 summer season, and of allegations of Open Skies violations lodged by JetBlue and Airlines for America (A4A) against the Netherlands government.

Under the controversial plan, which the government says is geared toward compliance with local noise regulations, flying at Schiphol will be reduced next summer by 8%. With the new cap, 460,000 annual aircraft movements are to be allowed at the airport beginning with the official March 31 start of the summer flying season, down from the previous cap of 500,000 movements. The Netherlands plans to further reduce the cap to 452,000 annual movements beginning with the start of the 2024/2025 winter flying season on Oct. 27 of next year.

JetBlue, which began flying to Amsterdam in August from New York JFK and September from Boston, is one of 24 airlines that flew to Schiphol last summer but will not have slot allocations for next summer, said Hugo Thomassen, managing director of Airport Coordination Netherlands.

Those 24 airlines are ones that do not hold historic slots rights at Schiphol. The 84 airlines that do hold historic slots face a 3.1% reduction in their slot portfolio next summer.

Anticipating that it would be frozen out of Amsterdam, JetBlue filed its complaint with the DOT in late September, asking that the department impose punitive capacity cuts against Dutch airlines, of which KLM is by far the largest.
JetBlue Friday said that its Amsterdam service has already proved a boon to consumers, offering low fares and new competition in a marketplace dominated by the KLM-Delta joint venture.

A4A had also accused the Netherlands of violating the Open Skies treaty. In a statement Friday, the trade group reiterated its view that the Dutch policy is illegal and praised the DOT for issuing its order.

“This is a necessary step in finding a favorable resolution for both the U.S. and the Netherlands in the months to come,” A4A said.

 All U.S. airlines that serve Amsterdam, and not just JetBlue, are slated to be impacted by the new Schiphol cuts. Delta, for example, would see a reduction of 252 slots next summer, leaving it with 7,806 total slots over the 30-week summer flying season. In addition, United will lose 53 summer Amsterdam slots next year, and American will lose 22 slots. 

Delta also said the decision violates the Open Skies agreement and will harm consumers.

“Delta has initiated legal proceedings against this decision, because it is in conflict with national, European and international regulations,” Delta said. “We believe that it is possible to balance sustainability priorities with passengers’ desire to travel and connect with people across the world — something we have demonstrated through a vigorous commitment to help decarbonize our operations and reduce noise.”

As an initial punitive action, the DOT ordered Dutch carrier KLM, Martinair and TUI Airlines Nederland to file their existing flight schedules, including codeshares, with the department within in seven days.

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