United States Retaliates Against Netherlands Flight Cap


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As of the summer of 2024, the Dutch government will restrict Amsterdam Schiphol Airport to 452,500 annual flights, down from the current limit of 500,000 annual flights. This is being done on environmental grounds, to limit noise and pollution around the airport.

This reduction is causing roughly two dozen airlines (including JetBlue) to lose the rights to fly to the airport next summer, while remaining airlines will have to reduce their service by 3.1%. It looks like this policy change will lead to some retaliation from the United States…

DOT claims Netherlands violating agreement

The United States Department of Transportation (DOT) has today announced that it has determined that the Netherlands is in violation of the United States and European Union Air Transport Agreement, by not following the balanced approach philosophy:

The Department finds that, because the Netherlands has failed to follow the Balanced Approach, the Phase 1 capacity reduction measures being undertaken at AMS constitute unjustifiable and unreasonable activities under IATFCPA, and are in violation of the of the US-EU Air Transport Agreement.

While the DOT hasn’t announced exactly what it will do to counter this, the government is demanding that Dutch airlines file their summer 2024 schedules with the DOT:

The Department orders KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, NV; Martinair Holland NV; and TUI Airlines Nederland, BV to file with the Department, within seven days of the service date of this order, any and all of their existing schedules for air transportation services, including codeshare, common branding, and extra sections, between any point or points in the United States and any point or points not in the United States.

The DOT notes how since January 2023, it has exchanged multiple letters with the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management regarding the new restrictions at the airport, but without success.

JetBlue has been vocal about the new restrictions

What restrictions could the DOT impose on the Netherlands?

JetBlue has been requesting that as a reciprocal measure, the the DOT ban KLM from flying to New York JFK. While I understand JetBlue’s frustration in general, I found that specifically to be a step too far. KLM has been flying to New York for 75+ years, while JetBlue has been flying to Amsterdam for a matter of months.

That being said, I think there’s nothing wrong with the DOT broadly imposing reciprocal restrictions, and I think the intent here is pretty clear — the DOT will likely start restricting flights to the United States for Dutch airlines. A few thoughts:

  • This isn’t a case of the Dutch government taking a protectionist approach with KLM, because KLM is the airline most harmed by these new capacity restrictions, as it has to make the most flight cuts
  • Obviously the intent of any reciprocal action would be to get the Dutch government to reverse course, though I’m not sure the Dutch government would actually care? I mean, given the way the government is acting, the response might just be “great, that helps us even further with our goals”
  • If the Netherlands doesn’t negotiate based on reciprocity, the end result will likely just be even less service between the two countries, which would harm consumers

I appreciate the DOT’s flex here, and standing up for consumers. This is a tricky topic, since airport slots and overall air services agreements between regions are negotiated separately. What makes this situation unique is that it’s the government of the Netherlands imposing these restrictions, rather than the airport or some local leaders.

The relevant agreement that governs air travel is between the United States and European Union, and the Netherlands is clearly just acting on its own with these changes.

KLM could be punished over the Netherlands’ new rules

Bottom line

The United States Department of Transportation claims that the Netherlands’ new flight caps for Amsterdam Schiphol Airport violate the air transport agreement between the United States and European Union. The DOT is demanding that all Dutch airlines file their planned US service, presumably with the intent of restricting some of these flights, as a reciprocal measure.

How do you see this spat playing out between the United States and Netherlands?

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