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One of Europe’s busiest airports to be forced to cut flights due to planet-warming carbon pollution

<i>Robin Van Lonkhuijsen/ANP/AFP via Getty Images</i><br/>Dutch carrier KLM has raised concerns about the proposed cap on international flights.
ANP/AFP via Getty Images
Robin Van Lonkhuijsen/ANP/AFP via Getty Images
Dutch carrier KLM has raised concerns about the proposed cap on international flights.

Xiaofei Xu, CNN

Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, one of Europe’s busiest aviation hubs, is to be forced to limit the number of international flights and passengers it handles under the Dutch government’s plans to cut carbon emissions — a move that has triggered airline concerns.

Dutch officials announced on March 17 that it would impose restrictions on all international flights leaving the Netherlands in order to reach its climate goals.

Aviation accounts for around 2-3% of the world’s planet-warming pollution, but a country’s share of those emissions can be quite high, especially for smaller nations that handle a lot of flights. And some have targeted aviation to reduce their overall climate footprint and meet their climate promises.

While there have previously been moves within Europe to limit or ban some local and regional short-haul flights to cut carbon emissions, this would be the first environmental measures made against international services.

KLM, the Netherland’s flagship carrier, this week expressed concerns over the move.

“KLM believes that sustainability policies — due to the global scope of aviation — should be regulated internationally as much as possible,” the company told CNN Wednesday.

“Being the only country in the world to set up a national CO2-ceiling does not match with an internationally operating sector and international policy,” it continued.

The Dutch transport ministry said in a statement that Schiphol and other affected airports could spread the reductions over multiple years.

“The maximum CO2 emissions set for each airport will apply for several years, so that an exceedance in one year can be compensated in subsequent years,” it said.

“The policy will help the country meet its carbon goal Further details remain to be decided and the government promises that discussions will include all parties.”

Legal challenge

Schiphol Airport is a major European hub alongside London, Paris and Frankfurt. It also serves as the base for KLM, the Netherland’s flag carrier fleet and one of the continent’s biggest airlines.

The airport came under heavy criticism from passengers and airlines last year after it struggled to cope with a resurgence in air traffic in the wake of the Covid pandemic. The chaos resulted in caps on passenger numbers through early 2023 to mitigate staffing shortages.

In response to environmental concerns, the Dutch government published the “Preliminary Scheme Schiphol” in January, which proposed cutting flight numbers from 500,000 to 460,000 between winter 2023-2024 and summer 2024.

KLM, alongside other big players such as Delta and EasyJet, described this decision as “incomprehensible” in a joint statement released on March 3.

“The airlines have already made multi-billion euros investments to meet near- and long-term goals in line with their own decarbonization trajectories as well as government policies, while the government’s justification hinges on operational restrictions with no consideration of alternative workable solutions to effect noise reduction,” the statement said.

Delta Airlines, which is a key partner of KLM and major shareholder the Air France-KLM group, also said that it “strongly objects to capacity reductions at Schiphol Airport” while it remains “actively focused on investing in our fleet renewal and modernization program as the most effective way forward to mitigate noise and environmental concerns.”

KLM launched a legal challenge against the Dutch government over the decision in early March.

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