By Toby Sterling and Charlotte Van Campenhout
AMSTERDAM, March 3 (Reuters) - KLM and other airlines on Friday said they are suing the Dutch government over plans to cap the number of annual flights allowed at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport, saying it would hurt them, the Dutch economy and travellers.
The dispute comes as Schiphol continues to struggle with staffing problems and pits the airline's financial interests against concerns from residents and environmentalists about noise and air pollution at Europe's third-busiest airport.
A spokesperson for KLM, the Dutch arm of the Air France-KLM Group (AIRF.PA), which accounts for 60% of flights at Schiphol, said the companies involved have sent a summons for the government to appear in a summary suit at Haarlem District Court. Others joining the KLM suit include Delta Airlines, easyJet, TUI and Turkey's Corendon Airlines.
"The airlines have already made multi-billion euro 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," they said in a joint statement.
In June 2022, as Schiphol struggled with operational problems including hours-long waits for security checks and mountains of uncollected baggage, the Dutch government said it would lower the cap on annual flights at the airport to 440,000 from a current provisional limit of 500,000. But the decision to cap the flights cited noise and air pollution concerns, not traveller's' distress.
"We are aware that, among others, KLM has started summary proceedings against the Dutch government," the Ministry of Infrastructure said in a reaction on Friday.
It said it could not directly address arguments made by the companies, given the lawsuit, however it said its current policy is aimed at defending legal rights of residents and it remains committed to meeting the 440,000 target by November 2024.
Schiphol Airport Group, which was also issued a summons in the KLM-led case, said it "regretted" the suit.
"We believe a reduction to 460,000 flights (per year) is a necessary intermediate step," Schiphol, which cites a slightly higher target, said in a reaction. Last month the airport said it would impose a 66,000 passenger per day cap for the 2023 May vacation period due to still-unresolved labour shortages.
Separately on Friday, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said it supported the airlines' suit and it also plans a parallel challenge on the grounds that the move violates both EU law and the Chicago Convention on noise-related operating restrictions.
"The dangerous precedent that this illegal approach creates left no choice but to challenge (the government) in court,” IATA Director General Willie Walsh said in a statement.
This article originally appeared on Reuters. All rights belong to Reuters.