Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport is all at sea over its extension

According to the Royal Schiphol Group’s CEO, Dick Benschop, the Netherlands’ Ministry of Transport plans to investigate the feasibility of the expansion of Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, “seawards”. Mr Benschop said, “We are open to it.” The Ministry of Transport will submit plans for discussion in the House of Representatives in Dec-2018 and aims to finalise the study by Jan-2019.


Summary:

  • The Dutch government will discuss the possibility of extending Amsterdam Schiphol Airport “seawards” before the end of the year;
  • With Lelystad Airport’s commercial opening put back to 2020 Schiphol is having difficulty handling widebody aircraft at peak operating periods;
  • The environmental lobby will be watching developments closely, as always.

Passenger traffic has been growing at a faster rate at Schiphol than its small number of peer airports (specifically the other three that together with it form the so-called FLAP airports – Frankfurt, London Heathrow and Paris Charles de Gaulle). Growth climbed as high as +9.2% in 2016 but in common with many European airports it has reduced considerably in the first nine months of 2018.

CHART – Annual passenger traffic growth at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport had been on a growth trend between 2012 to 2016, before slowing slightly in 2017 and halving in rate across the first ten months of 2018Source: CAPA – Centre for Aviation and Amsterdam Schiphol Airport reports

Schiphol’s problem is not so much one of a lack of capacity although with all 500,000 slots taken up, it recently took a decision to limit the number of widebody aircraft in the mornings owing to a lack of connected gates, thus requiring additional bus transport across a motorway.

It has six runways, after all and five of them are longer than 3,300 m. Extending it further has perpetually raised concerns with local residents and pressure groups though, about noise and emissions.

That is why the nearby (and Schiphol Group-owned) Lelystad Airport was earmarked to receive an increasing number of low-cost and charter services from Schiphol (see ‘Lelystad Airport will become the second Amsterdam airport but phased growth is needed to temper local concerns‘), a proposal first made over 10 years ago.

But in Feb-2018 the government postponed the opening of Lelystad to commercial services from Apr-2019 until 2020 to “allow more time for improved consultation with residents, administrators, entrepreneurs and airspace users”, which again can be read as environmental concerns.

So the ball is back in Schiphol’s court. Extending it “seawards” does not mean “into the sea” although the Dutch are world exports at turning water into land, and over a decade ago it was the Netherlands’ Royal HaskoningDHV which came up with the idea for an Amsterdam Schiphol replacement airport actually in the North Sea.

Perhaps it should come as no surprise then that earlier this year Royal HaskoningDHV was appointed as engineering adviser for Schiphol Airport’s expansion.

What it probably means is extending the airport to the west, an area which is not as built up as to the east and the north, and which is in the direction of the sea, some 15 km away.  To go east, towards the Ijmeer and Markermeer, would take it into parkland and then some of Amsterdam’s main southerly suburbs. That area is also very close to two motorways, the A4 and A5, which run to the north and south of the downtown area respectively.

The Netherlands is a heavily built-up urban landscape in many places and where it isn’t, the country’s thriving agricultural sector is well protected. In other words, there isn’t much land to build anything on.

MAP – Amsterdam Schiphol Airport is located is located just 9 kilometres southwest of Amsterdam, in the municipality of Haarlemmermeer, North HollandSource: Google Maps

While this appears to be the best solution to expansion needs at Schiphol, any attempt to expand the airport further at all will be met by opposition from the environmental lobby that could last for years. Realistically Lelystad needs to be opened to commercial traffic at the earliest option – from next April, as originally planned – to alleviate the operational bottlenecks at Schiphol.