We routinely are told that, if Heathrow doesn’t expand, people from other UK airports will choose to fly to Schiphol to interchange on to a long-distance flight. The CEO of Schiphol has even rather cheekily called it ‘Heathrow’s third runway’. He knows full well it can never be that because Schiphol has almost reached capacity.
It is not that Schiphol lacks runway space. It has five runways (six if you include one for very small planes) and fewer flights than Heathrow. The capacity constraint is down to the strict rules which exist about which runways can be used and when. There are tight noise regulations in place which mean that all five runways are never in use at any one time. Indeed, rarely are more than three of the runways used at once. And the use of the two runways which go over densely-populated areas is avoided whenever possible.
But here’s the big reason why Schiphol can never become London’s third runway. It has almost reached its permissible noise limits. The airport has a complex way of regulating noise: “the present system as from 2005 consists of 35 points around Schiphol where the actual noise of passing planes is physically measured and added up to annual totals per point. If a total at a certain point exceeds its legal maximum, the relating runway can no longer be used and traffic should be diverted to alternative runways. The maximum capacity of this system is some 480,000 air traffic movements each year.” You can read more about this in the paper Noise Reduction at Schiphol.
The system is being altered so that possibly 510,000 flights will be able to use the airport each year. But that’s it. No more. And not significantly greater than the 480,000 cap at the two-runway Heathrow. The trips from Edinburgh, Manchester or Newcastle to Schiphol to interchange will have a finite limit.
Schiphol is looking to get round its limits by ‘outsourcing’ perhaps as many as 70,000 low-cost, leisure flights to the smaller airports Netherlands. If – and it still very much is ‘if’ that happens – it will free up some space at Schiphol but not enough to dent the myth that Schiphol can ever become Heathrow’s third runway. Gatwick maybe. Stansted possibly. Even Birmingham or Boris Island. But not Schiphol. The Dutch take their noise responsibilities far too seriously for that to happen.