The Dutch government cannot introduce a cap to lower flight numbers at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport later this year, a local court ruled on Wednesday, blocking one of the most high-profile attempts yet to reduce the aviation industry’s environmental impact.
A Haarlem court ruled that the government could not cut flight numbers by 8 per cent to 460,000 per year because it had not gone through the correct procedures when it introduced the rules as temporary measures.
“According to European rules, the state can only reduce the number of air transport movements at an airport after going through a careful process,” the court said in a statement.
The ruling is a boost for the airline industry, which brought the case against the government and pointed to its longstanding efforts to reduce aircraft noise levels and carbon emissions, including through the introduction of newer aircraft.
“With our measures we see a better alternative for achieving less noise and CO₂ while meeting travellers’ need to fly,” said Dutch carrier KLM.
Other carriers including easyJet, Tui and Delta were also involved in bringing the case.
Schiphol said the court decision provided clarity and pledged to “continue with everything we do to make aviation quieter and cleaner”. The Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management has been contacted for comment.
The case rested on the local impact of flying, including noise and nitrogen dioxide levels and was closely watched within the European aviation industry as one of the first efforts by the state to limit flying on environmental grounds.
The industry argues that it does not need to curtail growth in flying as it strives to hit net zero by 2050 because of new technologies, notably cleaner fuels.
But environmental campaigners have questioned the potential of the new technologies, which are unproven commercially, and on Wednesday said the judgment was a setback.
“The aviation sector is spinning a flawed net zero narrative to cover for its pursuit of industry growth in total contradiction with climate goals,” said Johnny White, a lawyer at environmental charity Client Earth.
Schiphol, which is majority owned by the state, has stood out as an airport willing to sacrifice future growth because of environmental concerns.
The airport this week announced plans to become “quieter, cleaner and better”, and said it would consult with airlines on a ban on night flights and private jets and a reversal of plans to build an additional runway.
“We have thought about growth but too little about its impact for too long . . . I realise that our choices may have significant implications for the aviation industry, but they are necessary,” Ruud Sondag, chief executive of Royal Schiphol Group said in a statement earlier this week.
Dutch public policy contrasts with the UK, where the government has said airport capacity growth is consistent with its net zero 2050 targets.
The UK’s eight biggest airports have plans to fly almost 150mn more passengers a year, the equivalent of 300,000 extra jumbo jets, according to FT calculations.