Amsterdam’s Second Airport Project Faces Headwinds

Plans for Amsterdam’s second airport have hit troubled water as concerns for the environment grow. There are now brewing tensions between government ministers who support the airport launch and those who say the economic benefit is not worth the environmental cost.

Lelystad Airport front
Lelystad is caught in environmental debates. Photo: Magalhães via Wikimedia Commons

Flight shame starts on the ground

Nearly two years after it was expected to open, Lelystad Airport remains vacant. It was supposed to be the second airport in the Dutch capital, designed to help the country meet customer demand and generate further economic interest in the Netherlands. However, plans for launching the project have now hit turbulent headwinds as minsters deliberate over the environmental repercussions.

And it’s not an easy discussion. There are two issues in this tale. Firstly, the aviation industry is being severely chastised for its negative environmental attrition. Second, the current government in the Netherlands is made up of four parties with wildly different opinions when it comes to the climate crisis. The debate involves political and personal ideology about the health of the planet and ministers must now ask if the economic benefits of the airport will outweigh the environmental cost.

Many leaders have been highly vocal about opposing the development of the airport. Speaking to Skift, the green political party in the Netherlands said that opening a new airport was the wrong tact in light of the climate emergency. Suzanne Kroeger of the GroenLinks party said:

“It’s sheer madness to facilitate a new airport in times of climate urgency…” 

Other politicians reasoned that it would be down to new technologies in the aviation sector to clean up carbon emissions. Some said that a new airport could not be to blame. However, Ms. Kroeger then went on to say that:

“Lelystad will be a failure.”

Well, we can certainly appreciate that the traditional growth of the aviation industry will present a threat to the environment, but is GroenLinks right in saying that Lelystad will be a failure?

What are the concerns?

Despite growing fears for the environment, these days it is still a rarity for airports to be embroiled in the climate crisis. That’s because they themselves are not really responsible for the damage that the aviation industry does in terms of carbon emissions. However, the development of a second airport would allow greater aviation activity and perhaps of the wrong kind.

Not only would Lelystad allow more airlines to operate within the Netherlands but it would also attract more services from existing carriers. The popularity of the Dutch destination has left Schiphol Airport with few available slots. But the consistent demand for flights highlights a need to develop. However, it’s not simple. The government needs to look at the type of trade that the launch will foster.

It is speculated that more low-cost airlines will snap up slots making transit through Europe ever more accessible and cheaper. And that’s a concern for the environment. Low-cost carriers have previously been slated for their inability to represent the true cost of flying. In fact, opening a new airport could be detrimental to climate goals which are meant to see the aviation industry reducing its carbon footprint.

Ryanair at Schiphol Airport
Lelystad Airport might attract the wrong crowd. Photo: Alf van Beem via Wikimedia Commons

What’s more, land use is a contentious issue in the Netherlands. There isn’t too much of it spare which means that Lelystad sits fairly close to civilian communities as well as waterways. That raises concerns over the physical health of those neighborhoods as well as the environmental pollution from harmful aircraft fumes.

With so much at stake, why are some politicians still pushing for the launch?

What could Lelystad Airport bring?

Regardless of all the climate controversy, there are of course benefits to opening Lelystad Airport. Climate inertia on this topic could be blamed on the dazzling opportunity that a new airport could bring. Not only more airlines and economic investment but also more local jobs. And when there’s already the threat of jobs in the Netherlands’ aviation industry being lost, local employment becomes even more enticing.

What’s more, Lelystad Airport is already waiting. Infrastructure has been completed but it just needs that all-important confirmation.

Schiphol airort front
Lelystad will help alleviate pressure from Schiphol. Photo: StevenL via Wikimedia Commons

A page on Schiphol Airport’s website says the development at Lelystad is essential:

“Air traffic at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol has increased markedly in recent years….there is an urgent need for alternatives, particularly to accommodate holiday air traffic that doesn’t have to fly to and from Schiphol. The development of the regional airport at Lelystad into an international airport for holiday destinations is currently the subject of animated discussion… Since [development permission was granted], the runways have been extended…The terminal is also ready to receive its first travellers…The infrastructure is ready….”

Why, now all the work has been completed, are government officials getting cold feet? It seems that whilst Lelystad Airport had the best intentions, it is being hampered by problem after problem. And that leaves the all-important question of: would the economic benefit outweigh the environmental cost?

Too high a price to pay

When it comes to the launch of Lelystad Airport, the environmental and health implications really do appear to be too high. Even the possible profitability of Lelystad has been curtailed. Civilian disruption from air traffic noise has meant that the airport is capped at 45,000 aircraft movements per year and there’s also a concern about damaging nitrogen from aircraft activity.

Particularly for an industry that’s looking to master its operations in a more environmentally friendly way, this might not be the right move. That’s not to say that Lelystad would necessarily fail. Whilst passengers are becoming more aware of the environmental impact of flying, there are still lots of tourists who choose flying as their primary mode of international transport.

It’s perhaps just a case now of putting a halt to Lelystad operations until a more environmentally viable alternative presents itself. That would mean more sustainable air travel and actually reaching those carbon-neutral goals. It’s important for the aviation industry to grow sustainably from here on out. It must learn how to walk before it can fly.

Do you agree with the environmental concerns of opening Lelystad Airport? What could be done to remedy heavy customer demand for flights to the Netherlands? Let us know in the comments below!