Dutch government presses ahead with Schiphol flight cap as airlines protest

FILE PHOTO: KLM aircraft are seen on the tarmac at Schipol airport near Amsterdam

By Toby Sterling

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) -The Dutch government will move ahead with plans to cap the number of flights at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport next year to reduce noise, it said on Friday, a decision that is fiercely opposed by flag carrier KLM and airline industry groups.

"Aviation can bring the Netherlands a lot that's good, as long as we pay attention to the negative effects for people that live near the airport," said Transport Minister Mark Harbers in a statement announcing the cap, which will go into effect in 2024 pending approval from the European Commission.

Flights will be capped at 452,500 per year, Harbers said, 9.5% below 2019 levels and lower than a previous proposal of 460,000.

Airlines that use Schiphol including Air France-KLM have sued to try to prevent the cap at one of Europe's busiest airports. They say it will harm business and violate previous agreements.

KLM on Friday called the cap "incomprehensible" and said implementing it would damage the Netherlands.

The decision is "arbitrary, ill-thought out and undercuts procedures normally used," said Ourania Georgoutsakou, managing director of industry group Airlines For Europe (A4E).

The government's main reason for the cap is to address noise pollution, but it has also cited the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as well as recurring logistical problems at the airport. Environmental groups and Schiphol itself support the cuts.

Airlines opposed to the ban are appealing to the Dutch Supreme Court after losing an appeal in July.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA), which supports the airlines' case, on Thursday told the Dutch caretaker government not to proceed ahead of a national election in November.

"In a few months’ time, this government will not be accountable for the severe consequences that may follow from the Schiphol decision, particularly with respect to relations with the Netherlands’ trading partners, and lost jobs and prosperity at home," IATA said in a statement.

At a press conference, outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte confirmed that the U.S. Department of Transport had sent the Dutch government a letter airing concerns about the cap, which he said would be addressed.

(Reporting by Toby SterlingEditing by Mark Potter)