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With the start of this winter season full freighter movements have decreased by 12,4%, according to our preliminary mid-November figures. The effect on total cargo volume is currently undetermined. The decrease in full freighter flights is a direct result of the slot scarcity at Schiphol.
Schiphol’s slot shortage is caused by the Alders Agreement, which entered into force in 2008. Due to the noise disturbance caused by air traffic, the number of commercial air transport movements was capped at 500,000 up to and including 2020.
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol is getting busier by the day. Various media have reported that the airport is responding by tightening the reigns on its allocation of landing rights, and even revoking those rights. However, this is a misconception. In reality, the decision on who gets to take off and land is not up to Schiphol at all. In the Netherlands, ‘slots’, as they are known, are allocated by an independent foundation also known as the slot coordinator. A slot gives an airline the right to take off or land at a particular time.
Twice a year, just ahead of the winter and summer seasons, the slot coordinator issues all the available slots in conformity with the statutory rules. The system works according to a simple principle: use it or lose it. If an airline uses more than 80% of its allocated slots, it acquires a historic right to this set of slots and will automatically be allowed to operate its flights in the next season. And, under the rules, an airline that uses fewer than 80% of its allocated slots automatically loses them.
For cargo airlines, the cap on Air Traffic Movements till 2020 has created a problem. Because Full Freight carriers require more flexibility and therefore operate a less regular flight schedule, some cargo airlines were unable to hold their historical slots. Resulting in the freed-up slots becoming available for other airlines.
How these slots are then divided will be decided upon by the slot coordinator. The coordinator divides them on the basis of domestic and international regulations, the Worldwide Slot Guidelines (WSG) drawn up by the IATA (International Air Transport Association) and the capacity determined by Schiphol.
Until recently, the 80% rule had little impact on cargo carriers because there were always plenty of slots available. But now, with Schiphol nearing its capacity limit of 500,000 flights a year (until 2020), slots are becoming scarce, to the extent that there are almost none left.
The independent slot coordinator is also in charge of the reallocation of unused slots. To solve the problem now confronting the cargo sector, the coordinator could apply what is known as a ‘local rule’. Briefly stated, this would allow airlines to be given conditional local – that is, domestic – priority in the allocation of slots.
Such a local rule must be discussed in the coordination Committee, which represents all airlines at Schiphol. Thereafter the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management can approve a proposal. The cargo airlines previously proposed a local rule. However, the weighted majority of airlines were opposed to the proposal.
Given the vital interest of air cargo operations for Mainport Schiphol and for jobs at stake in the cargo sector, former Secretary of State Ms. Dijksma has asked Schiphol to present a local rule proposal backed by the Dutch aviation sector. Schiphol has drafted such new proposal for the local rule which will be discussed during an extraordinary meeting of the Coordination Committee Netherlands on 14 December 2017.