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Netherlands airports join forces to synchronize cargo flow

MIAMI — The private company that owns and manages Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam on Thursday finalized a deal to acquire a 40% stake in Maastricht Aachen Airport and form a strategic partnership heavily focused on developing an integrated cargo hub.

Royal Schiphol Group is investing 4.2 million euros ($4.5 million) to bring Maastricht (MST), the second-largest cargo airport in the Netherlands, under its wing. The province of Limburg remains Maastricht’s majority owner.

Schiphol is the third-largest cargo airport in Europe by tonnage and the home base for global carrier KLM.

Maastricht processed more than 119,000 tons of airfreight in 2022, a fraction of the 1.6 million tons moved through Schiphol, 125 miles to the north. It is the European hub for Turkish Cargo and a destination for freighters operated by airlines such as Emirates, Qatar Airways and Saudia.

“Both Schiphol and MST recognize the importance of cargo, valuable freighter slots and good connectivity with the rest of the world. This collaboration will add value for our cargo partners at both airports, as we strive towards innovation, efficiency and sustainability,” said Joost van Doesburg, head of cargo at Schiphol Airport, in a statement.

Teaming up will involve both airports sharing market intelligence and freight data to find ways to increase transport efficiency. Officials said Maastricht offers an ideal testing ground for key priorities such as sustainable aviation, including electric aircraft.

In addition to collaborating on product development, the Dutch airports will also share resources in the areas of strategy, real-estate, commerce and maintenance.

The signing of the deal follows Maastricht airport’s recent announcement of plans to grow its freighter capacity by extending the operational length of its upgraded runway to 9,022 feet by 2025.

One innovation under consideration is for the two airports to establish a secure and sustainable truck corridor where cargo could be shuttled in either direction with low-emission vehicles, essentially making Maastricht a feeder port for overcrowded Schiphol, Olaf van Reeden, Schiphol’s cargo partnerships director, said Monday in an interview at the Cargo Network Services conference here.

Thursday’s announcement didn’t mention the controversial proposal by the Dutch government to reduce flights at Schiphol for pollution and noise reasons, but moving toward a single airport system eventually might be a compromise to spread out societal impacts while maintaining Schiphol’s major role in the national economy.

Fight over fewer flights

A federal court is set in mid-June to hear an appeal from the Dutch government after a lower court threw out proposed flight caps designed to meet the European Union’s goal of reducing overall aviation emissions 55% by 2030 and entirely by 2050. The government wants to reduce the number of available takeoff and landing slots available to airlines to 460,000 next year, eventually to 440,000, from a half-million.

The lower court agreed with airlines that the government had violated EU and international law by not taking a balanced approach that exhausted all other options, in consultation with stakeholders, before trying to impose a 12% capacity cut.

Opponents argue that passengers and freight might take inefficient routes to get to the Netherlands without going through Schiphol, which could actually increase the environmental impact. Flights would be rerouted to other hub airports in Europe and do nothing to reduce overall emissions. If airlines were forced to fly fewer routes, they could opt to fly larger aircraft, which are more noisy.

Logistics groups warn that all-cargo operators could migrate to other airports once the slot cap is reached, harming the economy and pushing more shipments onto roads. Without sufficient all-cargo traffic, freight infrastructure and services will not be fully utilized and costs will increase.

“Regulators should at least be able to demonstrate that their actions will achieve their own stated goals, rather than be nothing more than costly theatrics with unintended consequences that could instead have the opposite effects,” said Michael Webber, a U.S.-based airport consultant, in a LinkedIn post.

A study by the Centre for Economics and Business Research, commissioned by unidentified opponents calling themselves the Red Schiphol Campaign, predicts that eliminating 60,000 flights per year will reduce the amount of cargo handled at Schiphol by more than 198,000 tons worth $12.4 billion, representing an 11.4% drop in volume. The report also says the flight cap could result in 1.3 million fewer tourists using Schiphol.

Meanwhile, Schiphol Airport has separately proposed new limits on flights to demonstrate its seriousness in addressing public concerns about aviation. It wants to ban takeoffs from midnight to 6 a.m. and landings from midnight to 5 a.m., which would eliminate 10,000 flights per year. Another part of the eight-point plan would safeguard cargo by reserving 2.5% of the available slots for cargo flights. Cargo airlines often fly irregular schedules, making it difficult to comply with rules requiring 80% usage of allotted slots in their flight schedule or risk losing them. But the new night closure will apply to cargo.

Schiphol is also abandoning plans for an additional runway. The airport operator has previously criticized the government for not developing nearby Lelystad Airport as an overflow alternative for narrow-body jets to relieve pressure on Schiphol.

“Schiphol connects the Netherlands with the rest of the world. We want to keep doing that, but we must do it better. The only way forward is to become quieter and cleaner more rapidly. We have thought about growth but too little about its impact for too long,” said Ruud Sontag, CEO of Royal Schiphol Group, on April 4.

Maastricht 747 measures

Maastricht airport on April 1 banned the noisiest, most polluting freighters — specifically the Boeing 747-200 and MD-11. It also plans to double the fees for Boeing 747-400 freighters using the airport starting in 2025, and not allow them by 2030. A 747-200 prohibition eliminates two flights per week.

The phase-out measures replace a 50% surcharge on the noisiest aircraft. Since the introduction of the surcharge, the number of flight movements with 747-200 and comparable aircraft types has been almost halved compared to 2018 levels.


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