Environmental and green issues are of increasing importance in the aviation sector. This is coming from both an industry and regulatory standpoint (the entire industry is aiming to reach net zero carbon by 2050), and from social and economic pressure from changing acceptance.
This has led to some changes in the private aviation industry, and likely more will follow. A recent proposal that has caught industry attention is a ban on private flights at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport from 2025. If this goes ahead, perhaps other airports will follow.
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Proposed ban on private jets in Amsterdam
In early 2023, Amsterdam Schiphol Airport released comprehensive proposals for change at the airport. These contained the proposal to ban private aviation flights from the airport.
This would be no trivial change. Amsterdam Schiphol is currently a busy airport for private and business aviation – by far the busiest in the Netherlands. According to a 2022 report from Dutch environmental consultancy CE Delft, Schiphol saw 6,723 private aviation departures in 2023.
This is up an incredible amount from 2020, when there were just 730 private flights. As we emerged from the pandemic, this was up to 3,236 departures in 2021 – still less than half the 2022 level. The Amsterdam to London route was the sixth busiest flight route (under 500km) in Europe in 2022, with almost 1,300 flights.
Major changes proposed at Schiphol
An exact time frame to implement the ban on private flights has not been given – only the indication that it will come into force “no later than 2025-26.”
The ban on private jets is not the only part of Schiphol’s proposals. The airport will also ban night flights, with no landings between midnight and 5am and no departures until 6am. According to the airport, this will cut around 10,000 night flights per year. This restriction will be particularly impactful for low-cost airlines. Transavia, an airline owned by Air France-KLM has over half of its flights scheduled to arrive or depart during night hours.
The heaviest and noisiest commercial aircraft will be completely banned as well. And it is also proposed that plans for a new runway be scrapped (this is the planned parallel Kaagbaan Runway).
There is good news and bad news for cargo operators. The airport has reaffirmed a strong commitment to cargo operations, with plans to reserve 2.5% of all take-off and landing slots for cargo from 2025/2026. But cargo operators will be subject to the ban on noisier aircraft (and this will likely include the Boeing 747, but the airport has not given any further details).
Concerns over emissions and noise pollution
The bans on private jets, and other proposals, are being made not just as part of efforts to cut industry carbon emissions, but also to address local noise pollution.
Both are, of course, a problem. The airport claims in its statement that private flying carbon dioxide emissions are 20 times higher compared to commercial flights. Research from Transport & Environment estimates it at between five and 14 times higher. Regarding local noise pollution, the airport expects these restrictions overall to reduce severe nuisance in the local area by 16% and sleep disturbance by 54%.
Ruud Sondag, CEO of Royal Schiphol Group explained the decision, saying:
“We need to be sustainable for our employees, the local environment and the world. I realise that our choices may have significant implications for the aviation industry, but they are necessary.”
Bans in other locations?
It is early days for these proposals, and the industry will be waiting to see whether the bans can be successfully implemented. The restrictions on operating hours was very quickly challenged in the Dutch courts (with both KLM and easyJet involved in bringing a case).
There are currently no firm proposals from any other European airports to make similar restrictions to private flights. There is interest and action, however.
In Ireland, for example, a bill was brought forward in early 2023 by the group People Before Profit, proposing a complete ban on private flights in Europe. It cites the high number of flights and the significant increase in the past couple of years. At the same time, Sinn Fein put forward proposals for very high taxation of private flight in the country.
In France, short domestic flights between cities connected by regular train service of less than 2.5 hours have now been banned. This is another bold move, but only applies to very limited routes and is under review.
The UK is the biggest private jet market in Europe (followed by France). There were proposals from the Labour Party in 2019 to investigate the phase-out of private flights, if the party were in power. No airport has proposed any bans. But it is worth noting that flight activity in the UK is different – the top airports for private aviation are Farnborough, Luton, and London Biggin Hill, not the busy commercial London airports.
Banned, tax, or no change in the future?
Restrictions such as this are always going to be controversial. Introducing caps or bans is a very direct way to try and control flights, and associated emissions or pollution.
Many question how effective something like this would be. A ban in Amsterdam Schiphol may stop some flights, but others would simply transfer to others (such as Rotterdam The Hague Airport or Maastricht Airport).
Moves to make the sector and its power more green and efficient are a longer term solution. These also better address the fact that it is a global problem. Partial or location based bans will likely just transfer the problem. People still want to fly, and there are alternatives. Much higher taxation of private aviation is also a more complete potential solution, and something we may see more of too.
If this ban goes ahead, it will be a major change to private aviation in Europe. With the increasing focus on pollution and emissions, we are likely to more dramatic proposals or changes like this. Longer term, improvements in technology will hopefully reduce noise and environmental pollution. This is unlikely though to come quick enough, however. to meet current objections.
CE Delft / Greenpeace: https://greenpeace.at/uploads/2023/03/co2_emissions_of_private_aviation_in_europe_def.pdf
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