Why Schiphol will never become ‘Heathrow’s 3rd runway’ – it has tight noise and ATM limits

We are routinely told that, if Heathrow doesn’t expand, people from other UK airports like Newcastle, Edinburgh and Liverpool will choose to fly to Schiphol (Amsterdam) to interchange onto long-distance flights.  The CEO of Schiphol Airport has even rather cheekily called it ‘Heathrow’s third runway’ or referred to Amsterdam as “London’s 2nd hub.” However, John Stewart explains that this is not a situation that can continue indefinitely. Though Schiphol has 5 runways, in reality only two can be used at one time. And unlike airports in the UK, Schiphol has strict noise regulations about which runways can be used, and when.  The use of the two runways which go over densely-populated areas is avoided whenever possible. Schiphol has almost reached its permissible noise limits, with around 425,565 flights last year – and a limit of 510,000 per year (cf. 480,000 at Heathrow).  When the noise from planes using one runway reaches a certain point, no more is allowed in that year, and traffic should be diverted to alternative runways. The system in use at Schiphol to protect residents from aircraft noise is more rigorous than in the UK, and the Dutch take their noise responsibilities on aircraft noise too seriously to allow Schiphol to become effectively a UK hub.

Why Schiphol will never become ‘Heathrow’s third runway’

Blog by John Stewart

28th April 2015

We routinely are told that, if Heathrow doesn’t expand, people from other UK airports will choose to fly to Schiphol to interchange on to a long-distance flight.  The CEO of Schiphol has even rather cheekily called it ‘Heathrow’s third runway’. [And Amsterdam as London’s 2nd hub].

He knows full well it can never be that because Schiphol has almost reached capacity.

It is not that Schiphol lacks runway space.  It has five runways (six if you include one for very small planes) and fewer flights than Heathrow.  [52.5 million passengers in 2014 at Schiphol compared to 70 million at Heathrow].

Schiphol map


The capacity constraint is down to the strict rules which exist about which runways can be used and when.

There are tight noise regulations in place which mean that all five runways are never in use at any one time.  Indeed, rarely are more than three of the runways used at once.  And the use of the two runways which go over densely-populated areas is avoided whenever possible.

 But here’s the big reason why Schiphol can never become London’s third runway.  It has almost reached its permissible noise limits.  The airport has a complex way of regulating noise:  “the present system as from 2005 consists of 35 points around Schiphol where the actual noise of passing planes is physically measured and added up to annual totals per point. If a total at a certain point exceeds its legal maximum, the relating runway can no longer be used and traffic should be diverted to alternative runways. The maximum capacity of this system is some 480,000 air traffic movements each year.

You can read more about this in the paper Noise Reduction at Schiphol:Noise reduction Schiphol  

The system is being altered so that possibly 510,000 flights will be able to use the airport each year.  [The number was about 425,565 in 2014].  But that’s it.  No more.  And not significantly greater than the 480,000 cap at the two-runway Heathrow.  The trips from Edinburgh, Manchester or Newcastle to Schiphol to interchange will have a finite limit. 

Schiphol is looking to get round its limits by ‘outsourcing’ perhaps as many as 70,000 low-cost, leisure flights to the smaller airports Netherlands.

If  – and it still very much is ‘if’ that happens – it will free up some space at Schiphol but not enough to dent the myth that Schiphol can ever become Heathrow’s third runway.  Gatwick maybe.  Stansted possibly.  Even Birmingham or Boris Island.  But not Schiphol.  The Dutch take their noise responsibilities far too seriously for that to happen. 




Comment from an AirportWatch member:

“In the Netherlands noise is clearly taken very seriously. It would be shameful if
Heathrow were to have a lower standard – more noise due to a third runway
– in order to gain ‘competitive advantage’ over Schiphol”

See earlier:

Schiphol airport unfazed by prospect of new London runway – many UK passengers prefer transferring from Schiphol

Schiphol Group president and chief executive Jos Nijhuis, described Amsterdam as “London’s second hub”. Schiphol now handles up to 8 million UK passengers a year, 60% of whom connect to onward flights. Schiphol believes passengers from UK regional airports will continue to choose Amsterdam rather than Heathrow to connect to long‑haul flights, even if Heathrow gets a 3rd runway. 13 UK airports have services to Amsterdam and this will rise to 14 next month, with the addition of Belfast.  The loss of UK regional traffic to Amsterdam because of capacity constraints at Heathrow has featured heavily in Heathrow’s lobbying for a new runway, wanting to prevent the loss of customers to Schiphol. And wanting to keep on being the biggest international airport, by far, in Europe.  Jos Nijhuis said: “We are London’s second hub and doing very well. …I tell [Heathrow chief executive] John Holland-Kaye: ‘Consider our most western runway as yours. We can rename it Heathrow Runway Three….We are a much better transfer airport [than our rivals]. We designed the airport for transfers.” KLM chief executive Pieter Elbers said: “I don’t think additional capacity in London would make Heathrow more attractive than Schiphol to passengers in Newcastle or Humberside.” He felt higher charges needed by Heathrow to pay for a new runway would mean the runway would not reduce the traffic going via Schiphol.


Schiphol claims to operate Heathrow’s 3rd runway and provide the UK with global links

Schiphol airport has launching an aggressive advertising campaign, making out that it is offering more than 100 daily flights to the UK, enabling Britons to connect to 275 destinations across the world. Schiphol now serves 23 UK airports in Britain, compared with 12 offered by Gatwick and only 7 by Heathrow. Schiphol has 5 runways – compared with Heathrow’s 2 [of course, they cannot all be used at the same time – probably in practice only two are used at once].  Schiphol hopes to have more passengers etc than Heathrow within a decade (don’t they all?). The Telegraph is promoting this story, to help pile on pressure for new runways in the south east, and also as part of its continuing campaign against APD – wanting flying to be even more under-taxed than at present. The Telegraph, and Schiphol, are promoting the fear that Heathrow might be overtaken some time, with threats that ….”the Government is outsourcing Britain’s airports and jobs to our European competitors.”



Schiphol to get 3,000 fewer night flights per year – but that still leaves 29,000 per year

The number of night flights at Schiphol in the next 3 years will be reduced from 32,000 to 29,000. That still means around 80 flights per night – hugely more than other airports. There has been an agreement  – the Alders Agreement – between the airport and the local communities under the airport ‘s flight path. It allows for some growth at the airport but only within strict environmental limits. In order to remain within these limits the number of night flights had to be cut, but the agreement is only for 3 years.  Schiphol is saying that the 3,000  flights are not being switched to other airports, and it is a real reduction, not just a displacement.  Up to 2020  the limit for the number of aircraft movements at Schiphol is 510,000 per year. There are also meant to be measures to use quieter planes to cut noise and compensate residents for noise.