Amsterdam Capacity Crisis? Can Schiphol continue to keep up with its European hub competitors?

Historically, Amsterdam Airport Schiphol has performed well in comparison with similarly sized European airports and has experienced strong growth in the past four years.


  • Schiphol is set drop out of the top three European airports by 2020 as Frankfurt Airport catches up, unhindered by similar slot limits;
  • The Lelystad option, though delayed until 2020, still is the best option on the table for Royal Schiphol Group;
  • While leisure flights may move, the issue of noise pollution around the Schiphol residential area will remain if smaller aircraft are swapped for larger equipment.

Passenger traffic growth has however been cut almost in half to 3.7% between 2017 and 2018 as the airport reaches its current 500,000 movement limit under the Alders agreement, meaning Schiphol will almost certainly drop out of the top three European airports in 2019 or 2020 as Frankfurt Airport catches up, unhindered by similar slot limits.

CHART – Evolution of passenger numbers versus aircraft movements in the past four years: Amsterdam is amongst the top four European airports, but for how long?

Source: CAPA – Centre for Aviation and airport traffic reports

The Netherlands is the most densely populated country in Europe at 488 people per square metre. In such a country regulation on special planning and environmental concerns is an extremely important factor for stakeholders.

The goal of the Alders agreement was to find a balance between the development of aviation and noise reduction measures, increasing the quality of the living environment surrounding the airport and the possibilities for using the space around the airport.

The original agreement of 2008 stipulated the airport be allowed a maximum of 510,000 movements p/a until 01-Nov-2020 and modified in 2015 to 500,000 movements, with restrictions on operational standards and the promise that noise reduction savings achieved upon reaching its limit could be converted back into further volume growth.

The agreement continued to keep in mind development of Eindhoven Airport and in particular Lelystad Airport as secondary airports capable of taking on portions of traffic from Schiphol, however in early 2018 this changed when Minister for Infrastructure and Water Management Cora van Nieuwenhuizen announced the opening of Lelystad for commercial operations would be delayed from Apr-2019 to sometime in 2020.

To make matters worse, the Ministry has come up against a number of hurdles relating to the manner in which traffic would transfer from Schiphol to Lelystad and how this clashes with EU competition law. The Ministry has had to adjust its plan to transfer a maximum of 45,000 movements from Schiphol with services transporting an average of less than 10% of transfer passengers eligible to make the switch to Lelystad.

It cut this figure to 25,000 and will allow EU carriers the right to develop Lelystad as a new destination in their schedules with 20,000 slots to choose from. Not ideal for Schiphol but something it can work with provided Lelystad commercial operations are still on the government’s agenda.

CHART – Schiphol aircraft movement structure: Holiday traffic set to move to Lelystad would include aircraft such as E175/190s and 737sSource: CAPA – Centre for Aviation and OAG (data: w/c 28-Jan-2019)

The European Commission is yet to review this new adjustment. This still doesn’t necessarily solve the core challenge of reducing aircraft noise pollution around the Schiphol residential zone, as smaller and quieter are replaced by larger more polluting aircraft in Schiphol’s schedule.

All in all, Schiphol is outperforming its European neighbours considering it does not depend on one or more adjacent secondary airport for non-main line traffic. Airports which do support Schiphol include Eindhoven Airport, which is the Netherlands’ second largest airport, however its location at the southern border of the county, around 140km from Amsterdam, as well as its own capacity issues, more or less rules it out as a secondary airport to receive traffic from Schiphol.

In a previous The Blue Swan Daily report entitled ‘Could Groningen Airport really be “a serious alternative” to Amsterdam Schiphol?‘, Gronigen Eelde Airport was also explored as a “serious alternative” to take on O&D and additional leisure traffic. It however is also to far from Schiphol and with a 1800m runway it could potentially take on some short haul jet aircraft types but lacks the ability to handle larger aircraft.

MAP – Lelystad is a short rail connection from Schiphol Airport compared with Groningen and Eindhoven options

Source: Google Maps

Ultimately Lelystad is the solution the industry keeps coming back to. Being a general aviation airport, Lelystad has no capacity constraints. It boasts a 2700m x 45m runway capable of handling a number of medium haul aircraft types and is under one hour from Schiphol via the Netherlands’ extensive rail network. Until Lelystad opens, even a small revision in the maximum movement limit at Schiphol back to the original 510,000 figure would allow the airport to match growth of Frankfurt Airport and keep Schiphol competitive.

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