Dutch government imposes Gulf carrier freeze at Schiphol

  • Randy Woods
  • May 21, 2015

Qatar 777 small_500w_5While most of the heat and smoke over the Gulf carriers’ alleged reliance on government subsidies has come from carriers in the United States, more fuel was added to the fire from Europe this week. The Dutch government, citing concerns over unfair competition, has frozen the landing rights at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport for carriers originating from the Persian Gulf region.

In a report from the Netherlands’ national newspaper, Financieele Dagblad, the country’s junior transport minister, Wilma Mansveld, was quoted as saying “I want, together with my European colleagues, to take a tougher approach to the rise of airlines in the Middle East if there is talk of unfair competition.” The Dutch government owns and operates Schiphol.

Shippers in the region reacted negatively to the news, saying it would have a detrimental impact on the Dutch airfreight industry and disrupt vital distribution networks. Joost van Doesburg, secretary for the Dutch shippers organization EVO and airfreight policy manager for the European Shippers’ Council (ESC), derided the decision as “protectionist” and called for the government to at least exempt all-cargo flights from the freeze.

By freezing expansion of landing rights for these large Gulf carriers, the Dutch government would, in effect, force shippers to avoid Schiphol altogether and truck their goods to rival airports in Brussels, Luxembourg and Frankfurt, van Doesburg said.

“The number of cargo flights to and from the Netherlands has shrunk considerably in recent years and there are already too few cargo flights from Schiphol,” he said. “From 2016, Air France-KLM will only have three freighters in operation where previously they had nine. We are, therefore, requesting that the block on new landing rights to Middle East airlines does not extend to all-cargo flights.”

The decision was also criticized for being handed down before the European Union could complete its ongoing investigation into allegations made by French and Germans airlines that carriers such as Emirates, Qatar Airways and Eithad Airways had accepted billions of dollars in state subsidies to help rapidly increase their market share of global cargo and passenger traffic. On June 4, the Dutch government is expected to begin debate on aviation issues in the EU parliament.

Outside forces, perhaps, played a role in the Dutch government’s decision to act now. Just last week, Emirates president Tim Clark, hinted that his airline might consider expansion into European airports as a way to circumvent the proposed open skies restrictions being considered by the U.S. government, at the request of the U.S. legacy carriers. “Expand further from European hubs into the U.S? Yes, we might do that,” Clark said on May 13. “The kind of abuse we’ve been getting might cause us to do it.”

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