In a retaliatory move, the US Department of Transportation has hit back at the Dutch government's decision to proceed with slot constraints at Amsterdam Schiphol by ordering Dutch carriers KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Martinair (Netherlands), and TUI fly (Netherlands) to file schedules for all their services to/from the United States within seven days for re-consideration.

The November 2 order came in response to what the DOT labelled the Dutch government's "unlawful experimental regulation" being implemented when Airport Coordination Netherlands (ACNL), on the same date, reduced or denied slot holdings at Schiphol for the IATA Summer 2024 season (end of March to October 2024). Consequently, Airlines for America (A4A) member carriers lost 339 historic slots at Schiphol, while airlines without historical slot allocations, such as JetBlue Airways (B6, New York JFK), have been denied slots entirely for the 2024 summer season.

The DOT order formally approves a joint complaint of members of the A4A and JetBlue against the Dutch government's controversial plan to cap capacity to reduce noise and emissions at the European hub. The so-called experimental scheme may kick in next year pending approval from the Dutch Cabinet and the European Commission, which is currently evaluating whether it conforms to the balanced approach required by EU regulations.

Following the ANCL's move, the DOT declared: "The Department finds that, because the Netherlands has failed to follow the balanced approach, the Phase 1 capacity reduction measures being undertaken at AMS constitute unjustifiable and unreasonable activities under International Air Transportation Fair Competitive Practices Act (IATFCPA), and are in violation of the US-EU Air Transport Agreement."

Referring to JetBlue's situation, which only started serving Amsterdam as its third transatlantic destination in August, the DOT said it was "deeply troubled by the notion that new entrants will be completely foreclosed from slot access at AMS, without any secondary or alternative means to obtain access".

It slammed the Dutch government's implementation of its noise reduction plan at Schiphol as "an unjustifiable and unreasonable discriminatory and anticompetitive practice". "We further find that the Government of the Netherlands has imposed an unjustifiable and unreasonable restriction on the access of an air carrier to the US-Amsterdam market".

The DOT, the Dutch government, and the European Commission will consult on the issue on November 13. Failing meaningful progress, Washington warned it stood ready to impose further appropriate action. The complaints by A4A and JetBlue have been supported by the Air Line Pilots Association, International (ALPA).

Delta takes legal action

Meanwhile, Delta Air Lines (DL, Atlanta Hartsfield Jackson) confirmed to ch-aviation that it has instituted legal proceedings against the ACNL's decision, which it deems to conflict with national, European, and international regulations. "Delta is disappointed by the decision to reduce slots at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport for the IATA Summer 2024 season. This decision is in violation of the US-EU open skies agreement and will negatively impact consumers. We believe that it is possible to balance sustainability priorities with passengers' desire to travel and connect with people across the world – something we have demonstrated through a vigorous commitment to help decarbonise our operations and reduce noise," a spokeswoman said.

"We believe the US and Dutch governments have an obligation under our historic open skies agreement to ensure that JetBlue is granted continued access at Amsterdam's only viable airport," JetBlue informed ch-aviation. "We look forward to continuing to engage with all stakeholders to ensure that JetBlue can continue to maintain its presence in Amsterdam going forward."

easyJet said it was notified to cut out two return flights per day for the summer 2024 season, a spokeswoman confirmed. "We will now review our summer schedule to ensure it is in line with the updated requirements," she said.

KLM in the crosshairs

KLM finds itself in the crosshairs of its own government's controversial plan and now also faces the possibility that the Netherlands' various open skies partners will pursue sanctions against it. The Dutch flag carrier leads an industry-wide campaign against the Dutch scheme, supported by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), amongst others. KLM, JetBlue, A4A, and other carriers and groups are joint parties to a proceeding before the Supreme Court of the Netherlands to stop the scheme.

A spokesman for KLM said the airline was disappointed with the number of slots allocated for the summer schedule. "This amounts to about 17 flights (legs) per day less than before the Corona crisis. KLM is focusing on the cassation case to show that the procedure followed does not comply with laws and regulations. In addition, the EU's balanced approach procedure is currently ongoing, in which KLM shows with its 'cleaner, quieter, more efficient' plan that less noise can also be achieved without drastic reductions in flight movements."