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The Dutch government has shelved plans to reduce the number of flights at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, bowing to pressure from airlines, the EU and the US government.
The about-face marked a setback to one of the most prominent efforts to restrict flying over environmental concerns and came after the Dutch government said the U.S. was threatening “countermeasures” against restrictions on its airlines landing at the hub airport.
Mark Harbers, infrastructure minister, said in a letter to Parliament on Tuesday that the decision was a “bitter pill to swallow”. However, he added that the government remains “committed to restoring the balance between Schiphol and its living environment” after the Dutch appeals court backed the government’s flight cap in July.
Airlines had campaigned heavily against proposals to cut the number of flights at the airport at one of Europe’s busiest hubs by 8 percent to 460,000 a year, in the EU’s most drastic measure yet to combat noise and noise caused by the airline industry constituted environmental pollution.
The push to restrict flights was based on the impact of flying on the local community, including aircraft noise and nitrogen dioxide emissions, rather than flying’s broader contribution to global warming.
Still, it was seen as a litmus test of governments’ ability to restrict flying to combat climate change.
Senior industry executives warned privately that the flight cap in the Netherlands could be the start of broader measures to curb the growth of air travel in Europe.
Harbers said the decision to postpone the cap came after the U.S. Department of Transportation issued an order earlier this month that said reducing capacity “would be unfair, discriminatory and anticompetitive to airlines.”
Harbers warned that this order “is the first step by the United States to take countermeasures.”
Brussels has also expressed “serious concerns” about the plan, while the Canadian government has also expressed its own concerns, Harbers said.
Willie Walsh, director general of the International Air Transport Association, said he “welcomes this outburst of common sense from the Dutch government.”
“Maintaining Schiphol’s capacity is good news for jobs, the economy, traveler choice and convenience, and better trade relations,” he said.
Airlines have committed to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050, primarily by using fewer polluting fuels.
Schiphol said it was “disappointed”. . . as the residents lose out.”
The airport had previously said it was willing to forego growth to become “quieter, cleaner and better,” proposing, among other things, a ban on night flights and private jets.
Additional reporting by Andy Bounds in Brussels