It will have escaped nobody’s attention: with effect from 29 October many cargo flights will no longer be welcome at Schiphol. The reason: the ceiling of 500,000 flight movements to 2020, as set down in the Alders agreement, is nearing this winter season. In order to avoid cargo aircraft shunning Schiphol and very many jobs being threatened, a rapid solution must be found. The Local Rule can offer a solution.
The cargo flights that will no longer be welcome are full freighter flights. Flights that have been carried out for consecutive uninterrupted periods for decades and that now account for 60% of all cargo operations at Schiphol. In 2016 there were approximately 17,800 flights: only 3.5% of all flight movements at Schiphol. This 3.5%, however, makes an important contribution to both the regional and Netherlands economy. The chain of companies active in air freight at Schiphol, such as the handling agents, airline companies, truckers and logistics providers, employ approximately 25,000 people. This will all be put at risk if the full freighters have to shun Schiphol. Enough reason indeed for ACN, EvoFenedex and Transport & Logistiek Nederland to take collective action. In this they are also supported by Fenex and the Sector Aviation of the FNV.
In order to be able to operate safely, full freighters need a runway of about 3,000 metres and, in bad weather, even longer. In the Netherlands these runways exist only at Schiphol. If full freighters are unable to land here this will mean a forced departure to foreign airports. Where they will be more than welcome!
This winter season the ceiling of 500,000 flight movements per annum until 2020, as agreed in the Albers Agreement, comes into view. Our national Slot Coordinator has, for the first time, been obliged to conform meticulously to the rules for the allocation of slots. In particular the 80/20 rule: airline companies who have received a series of slots must actually fly 80% of these flights at the agreed times. Failing this, then the company loses all 100% of these slots for the following corresponding season. These are the famous historical rights, or Grandfather Rights.
Unable to plan
Passenger flights can meet the 80/20 rule. Return flights are a given fact and it is therefore possible to develop and comply with a timetable. It is different for cargo aircraft. Shippers’ demand for their cargo capacity is highly volatile and impossible to plan for. Cargo companies do not usually know when their customers will have cargo to transport. This makes it impossible to indicate a half-year in advance which flights will be carried out and at what particular time.
Have a history but no rights
Many full freighter operators have a long history of flights at Schiphol, but they have been unable to build up historical rights. They have a history, but no rights. They are allocated slots from what is left over in the slot pool by the “historians” or are allocated unused slots that have been returned to the slot pool (reserve slots or ad hoc slots). And so the stringent application of the 80/20 rule has had the unintended side effect that many full freighter operators have seen their number of allocated slots drastically curtailed. Due to this, they must move their operations, either totally or partially, to another country. And that is certainly a most undesirable consequence for The Netherlands Ltd.
Passenger aircraft vs. cargo aircraft
The rules for the allocation of slots are European rules. The same applies for the 80/20 rule and that cannot be undone. In other words: the rights of ‘historians’ may not be eroded. Furthermore, there may be no discrimination on the grounds of nationality and a solution may not apply to only one or more specific airline companies. What is allowed and what happens in practice at other airports is to make a distinction between passenger and freight aircraft. A full freighter aircraft is configured in such a way that – apart from cargo supervisors – no passengers can be carried. This is so different to a passenger aircraft that it would not be discriminatory to treat the allocation of slots differently. And so the scene is set for a rule applying only to cargo aircraft without encroaching on the rights of the “historians”.
How can this fit in with the European legislation for the allocation of slots, the EU Slot Regulation? Into the picture comes the now frequently mentioned Local Rule: a local directive, applying only to Schiphol Airport. A Local Rule is an instruction to the Slot Coordinator for the allocation of slots. In this case the proposed Local Rule gives the Slot Coordinator the possibility of giving full freighters a certain priority when allocating from the previously mentioned pool of reserve slots or ad hoc slots. In this way the EU legislation, with regard to the historians’ rights and the non-discrimination principle, is respected.
In line with the Alders Agreement the Local Rule does not seek to increase full freighter flights. Everyone – including the full freighters – is marking time. The number of slots available for allocation to every full freighter is capped at the number of slots flown in the previous corresponding season. In this way we ensure that the cargo companies are not out squeezed out of the market by other traffic sectors that can comply with the 80/20 rule.
Support for motion
A serious proposal is on the table – without adversely affecting the historical rights of others – to retain full freighter flights at Schiphol. In this way the employment that the full freighters generate for Schiphol, the region and The Netherlands Ltd. as a whole, will not be jeopardised. The question now is with whom does responsibility lie for the adoption of such a rule? In the first instance it lies with the advisory body concerned with slot coordination in the Netherlands: the Coordination Committee Netherlands. But ultimate responsibility lies with the Minister for Infrastructure and the Environment, or rather, the State Secretary for Infrastructure and the Environment. There appears to be support in the Second Chamber for a motion on this subject.
In conclusion: the Local Rule should take effect before the start of the winter season on 29 October 2017. Otherwise the full freighter operators will be forced to transfer their operations to foreign airports. A rapid change of gear must take place. It is possible. Local Rule 2 recently came into force at Heathrow Airport on the basis of which the Slot Coordinator may prioritise slot requests for full freighters out of the pool of reserve or ad hoc slots. There was no question of any conflict with the principle of non-discrimination. What they can do, we can certainly do. Right?