Turning point for slot scarcity at AMS with approval of new local rule  

Today, Dutch Minister of Transport Cora van Niewenhuizen approved the implementation of a new local rule for airfreight at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (AMS), after the enforcement of a 500,000 annual movement cap at the airport led many cargo operators to abandon AMS for nearby competitors. The long-awaited rule change is meant to support AMS’ competitive stance in the European airfreight market against other regional competitors, like Maastricht Aachen Airport (MST). 

The new local rule has two facets intended to counter the effects of slot scarcity at AMS caused by the 500,000 annual cap on air traffic movements established in 2017 and in place until 2020.  

  • First, the local rule will make it easier for carriers to adapt their schedules to changing market requirements, without losing grandfather rights to their slots.  
  • Second, all slots that are not flown will be reallocated with priority for all cargo flights for up to 25% of the unused slots 

With these measures combined, the new local rule will make it easier for cargo operations to adhere to the 80/20 rule necessary to keep slots at AMS. Iis not yet clear how carriers will be allowed to adapt their schedules without losing grandfather rights to their slots, but it is important to note that slots are also not route, aircraft or flight number specific, and those factors can change for an airline without losing its historic precedence for the slot. The rule comes into effect on Aug. 31, and will be applied from IATA winter season 2019-2020 until the summer of 2021, with an evaluation after one year, according to Nieuwsblad Transport 

This development is welcome news for AMS and its stakeholders, as the airport has suffered from the loss of some carriers to neighboring airports due to the slot shortage. For example, Emirates SkyCargo relocated to Maastricht Aachen Airport (MST) due to congestion at AMS, as reported by our sister site, Air Cargo WorldBelgium’s Liège Airport (LGG) has also aimed to attract more freighter operations in the wake of AMS’ slot shortage, marketing itself as a “freighters first” airport to become a European hub for both Volga-Dnepr Group and Alibaba’s logistics subsidiary, Cainiao. 

Dutch air cargo industry association Air Cargo Netherlands (can) – which has long lobbied for a change to the slot requirements cap at AMS – also reported that AMS saw an approximately 12% decrease in the number of full freighter flights to the airport during IATA winter season last year. That has led to some friction with freighter operators at AMSAt the start of this year, U.S.-based ACMI and charter operator Kalitta Air filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation against AMS regarding the withholding of slots by the airport, seeking sanctions on Dutch carriers operating in the U.S. until its grievance was addressed. 

The negative impact of slot congestion at AMS can be further understood through the airport’s weaker cargo volumes over the past several months. In 2018, AMS experienced a 2.5% decline in its cargo handle – this decline continued into 2019, when cargo volumes at the airport fell 9.1% and 13.5% in January and February, respectively.  

Suffice to say, Dutch authorities recognized the necessity of adjusting this rule to maintain AMS’ competitive stance in the European airfreight market. This is especially true as neighboring airports like MST and LGG are aggressively seeking to capture a larger share of the regional cargo market. 

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