Air France-KLM has written to Amsterdam Schiphol threatening legal action because the airport signalled its intention to raise its charges for airlines by around 40% over three years. The group “finds this attitude unreasonable, inappropriate, and unacceptable,” especially as the coronavirus has battered carriers so hard, the letter said.

“The settlement as proposed by Schiphol means airlines not only have to process their own losses due to the greatly reduced passenger flows but also that they are made responsible for the almost complete loss of income from the airport itself,” the document, seen by ch-aviation, said.

“The losses for airlines have been enormous. They are currently trying to keep their heads above water and slowly focus on recovery,” the KLM Royal Dutch Airlines and Air France parent objected, adding that if the airport does not change its mind it will seek a legal route to oppose the new rates.

According to Air France-KLM, the fee hike is not in line with aviation law, “which protects users against excessively high rates resulting from the monopoly position of the airport.”

The plans are also at odds, it said, with a Dutch government order for KLM to achieve cost cuts of at least 15%, imposed last year when it bailed out the company with an emergency loan. The order stressed that “partners of society” such as state-owned Schiphol must contribute to controlling costs.

One result of the proposed rise will be that Air France-KLM's competitive position comes under more pressure as the price-sensitive transfer segment ebbs away from Schiphol to other European as well as Middle Eastern hubs “that will further strengthen their position on routes to Asia and Africa without having to do anything themselves.”

“At the moment, airlines are trying to stay afloat and recover and are trying to focus on recovery. Their shoulders are not financially broad enough to bear the losses of the airport at this time,” KLM wrote. “As a result, the intended recovery will take much longer. This affects not only individual airlines but also Dutch aviation as a whole. Ultimately, this will not benefit the airport either.”

Airlines erupted in protest last month when Schiphol released its tariff proposals that would push fees up by 9% next year and 14% each in 2023 and 2024. In 2019, Schiphol collected EUR972 million euros (USD1.13 billion) in airport charges, but in June 2022 the Dutch cabinet decided it should delay the fees until 2023. This meant that in 2020 alone it missed out on EUR655 million (USD759 million).

As William Vet, easyJet's regional chief for the Netherlands, said in reaction to the proposal: “We think it is important that the rates must remain competitive and not increase - certainly not now that there is such a cautious recovery.”

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has also voiced its opposition to the tariff plans as well as to a move by Schiphol to allocate take-off and landing rights for next summer based on its own list of priority destinations.

Air France-KLM was not immediately available for comment, and Amsterdam Schiphol has declined to comment until it makes a final decision on the new rates at the end of October.