Big Interview: Schiphol unfazed by London airport expansion

Big Interview: Schiphol unfazed by London airport expansion

Dutch aviation bosses talk in bullish terms about being London's second hub and how a new runway in the UK's southeast will fail to challenge that. Ian Taylor reports

Passengers from UK regional airports will continue to choose Amsterdam rather than Heathrow to connect to long‑haul flights, even if Heathrow gets a third runway.

That is the view of Schiphol airport and of Dutch carrier KLM, which serves 13 UK airports from Amsterdam and will add a route from Belfast next month.

The loss of UK regional traffic to Amsterdam because of capacity constraints at Heathrow has featured heavily in discussions about the need for expanded hub airport capacity for London.

The government-appointed Airports Commission is due to report immediately after the May 7 general election, making recommendations on whether to add a runway at Heathrow or Gatwick.

Schiphol Group president and chief executive Jos Nijhuis described Amsterdam as “London’s second hub”.

The airport handles up to eight million UK passengers a year, 60% of whom connect to onward flights.

Nijhuis said: “We have flights to 26 destinations in the UK; Heathrow has six. 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.’”

KLM chief executive Pieter Elbers (pictured) said: “I don’t think additional capacity in London would make Heathrow more attractive than Schiphol to passengers in Newcastle or Humberside. Amsterdam is an attractive alternative to Heathrow because everything is under one roof.

“In Amsterdam, we have an airport that handles 55 million passengers a year in a country with a population of 17 million. Logistics is an integral part of the Netherlands economy.”

Nijhuis said: “We are a much better transfer airport [than our rivals]. We designed the airport for transfers. Our competitive strength is the combination of hub and carrier [KLM]. It’s only possible to have a high proportion of transfer traffic if you make transfers as easy as possible. The airport has been designed to the specifications of KLM.”

Elbers conceded: “A third runway at Heathrow would impact our business.” But he put this down to the potential impact of increased charges at Heathrow to pay for runway construction.

“Heathrow is already not a cheap airport,” said Elbers. “We have discussions about the potential impact on the cost of operations. We will follow closely what happens.”

However, Elbers does not foresee a reduction in KLM’s operations at Heathrow even if KLM passengers have to pay higher charges to finance the airport’s expansion. He said: “We would be keen to have more slots at Heathrow. People will always go to London.”

Elbers pointed out that Schiphol could not expand unrestrictedly. “We have five runways and we are happy with that, but it does not mean we can do what we want,” he said.

“There are restrictions on the hours of the day we can operate, on the runways we can use at certain times and in certain weather.

“We have our challenges, mainly with the reduction of environmental impacts. There are potential limitations on the growth of Schiphol. They are political and environmental limitations, not physical, based on noise and pollution.”

Elbers was speaking this week as KLM launched a three-times-a-week service from Amsterdam to Bogota and Cali in Colombia.


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