Courts rule twice against European air travel in Netherland’s cases

  • Post last modified:March 22, 2024
  • Reading time:5 mins read

European air travel faced two major blows this week – as separate courts ruled firstly against an airline, and then against an actual government. It represents a major shift in airlines and governments’ approach to the climate crisis – but not one they’ve done voluntarily.

Schiphol: reduce your flights or else

Firstly on Wednesday 20 March a Dutch court ruled that Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport will have to limit the number of flights it hosts every year. As Schiphol Watch reported:

the judge in The Hague handed down a historic verdict . The government has squandered the interests of residents around Schiphol for decades and must now comply with the law. This means an end to anticipatory enforcement and a maximum of 400,000 flights.

Anticipatory enforcement is over. The judge was crystal clear about this: this form of toleration has no legal basis and is therefore unlawful. The government must stop this immediately and start enforcing the current legislation, as laid down in the Airport Traffic Decree of 2008 (LVB2008).

The noise limits included in that decision do not allow Schiphol to operate more than 400,000 to 420,000 flights per year. This is evident from calculations that the Ministry of Infrastructure had made by the To70 agency. The ministry previously assumed that there would be more flying space, but that turned out to be wishful thinking.

KLM under the microscope

Then, also on 20 March another court ruled that the Dutch airline KLM has misled customers with with “vague and general” adverts about its efforts to reduce the environmental impact of flying, in a greenwashing case brought by Fossielvrij NL (Fossil-free Netherlands).

The court also said KLM:

paints an overly rosy picture of the impact of measures such as Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) [made from renewable raw materials] and reforestation.

These measures only marginally reduce the negative environmental aspects and give the mistaken impression that flying with KLM is sustainable.

KLM is no longer carrying the adverts in question, so the court did not order the airline to take any concrete actions.

The verdict concluded that the airline:

may continue to advertise flying and does not have to warn consumers that current aviation is not sustainable… If KLM informs consumers about its ambitions in the area of CO2 reduction, for example, it must do so honestly and concretely.


Most of the adverts were part of KLM’s “Fly Responsibly” campaign, which the airline says is an “awareness campaign”. They range from general statements such as “join us in creating a more sustainable future” to declarations about KLM’s use of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF), described as a “promising solution”.

In the case of SAF, the court ruled that while it can contribute to reducing the harmful impact of flying, “the term ‘sustainable’ is too absolute and not sufficiently concrete.

According to the court documents, KLM had disputed the idea that the statements were misleading and said that the firm was free to communicate about its sustainability efforts. Ben Smith, the chief executive of KLM’s parent company Air France-KLM, tried to downplay the ruling. He said that it was “not a fair assessment” considering how much the airline is spending to update its aircraft:

We committed to buy billions (of euros) worth of new airplanes at KLM… It’s a concrete example of what we’re doing to improve” the environmental performance of KLM.

Ultimately, these victories against corporate polluters are a result of growing citizen’s campaigns in the Netherlands and beyond.

Setting an air travel precedent

Magdalena Heuwieser, spokesperson for the campaign group Stay Grounded network, said:

This win at Schiphol sets a precedent for airports globally.

If we want to take resident’s health and the looming climate breakdown seriously, we have to cap flights at airports. It is an illusion to believe that new technology and fuel substitutes are the main answer to climate, air quality and noise problems.

The ruling on KLM greenwashing is further proof that we cannot trust the industry’s sustainability claims. We have to build pressure for real climate solutions, and Schiphol shows that they are possible.

Additional reporting via Agence France-Presse

Featured image via Schiphol Airport

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