Amsterdam Schiphol solves its freighter slot problem, for now

Amsterdam Schiphol solves its freighter slot problem, for now

Amsterdam Schiphol airport handled a record 1.75 million tonnes of cargo in 2017. Phoro credit: Schiphol.

All requested full freighter aircraft slots at Amsterdam Schiphol for the current winter season have been granted, easing pressure on the Dutch gateway that reached full capacity in September last year and triggered a “use it or lose it” rule that disproportionately affected landing rights for cargo planes.

A maximum number of 500,000 air traffic movements at the airport until 2020 has been agreed between Schiphol Group, the local community, airlines, and the Dutch government. However, the increase in air freight expected to continue pouring in this year and rising passenger travel will keep slot management top of the priority list for Europe’s third-busiest freight airport.

“The outlook for 2018 — as, globally, we see even more air traffic growth — is a challenging one,” said Jonas van Stekelenburg, head of cargo at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. “The slot scarcity has been a challenge for us as a cargo community ... It is very positive that in this current 2017-2018 winter season, all requested, full freighter slots were granted, and many freighters were able to continue their business at Schiphol with ad-hoc slots.”

Airport Coordination Netherlands, designated by the minister of infrastructure and the environment as the independent slot coordinator in the Netherlands, met on Jan. 22 and is finalizing a “local rule” proposed by the KLM Group that will raise the priority of cargo airlines at Amsterdam Schiphol over other carriers in the allocation of landing rights.

The steady recovery of air freight markets pushed unprecedented volume through Europe’s airport hubs in 2017, with space under particular pressure during the best peak season in seven years. Amsterdam Schiphol handled a record 1.75 million tonnes of cargo in 2017, growing by 5.4 percent even with the slot issues. European exports to Asia, Schiphol’s largest market, grew by 8.8 percent year over year to 316,097 tonnes.

“The upswing in e-commerce shipments, both inbound and outbound, was a large contributor to the cargo volumes for this market,” said Van Stekelenburg.

But the increasing e-commerce driven air freight has coincided with rising demand for leisure travel with smaller passenger aircraft and freighters all competing for limited slots. The way it works is that aircraft landing rights in Holland allocated by Airport Coordination Netherlands give 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 according to a simple principle: use it or lose it.

This principle is known as the 80:20 rule where if an airline uses more than 80 percent of its allocated slots, it acquires a historic right to the set of slots and will automatically be allowed to operate its flights in the next season. An airline that uses fewer than 80 percent of its allocated slots automatically loses them.

The freed-up slots become available for other airlines and how they are divvied up is a decision made by the slot coordinator, which divides them on the basis of domestic and international regulations, the Worldwide Slot Guidelines drawn up by the International Air Transport Association, and the capacity determined by Schiphol.

“For cargo airlines, this creates a problem. Because they have to be more flexible and therefore operate a less regular flight schedule, cargo carriers were unable to hold their historical slots," Schiphol noted late last year.

“Until recently, the 80 percent rule had little impact on cargo carriers because there were always plenty of slots to go around. 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 airport said.

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