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Kalitta may be forced to exit Schiphol airport

[Image: Bruno Geiger Airplane Pictures and Collection]

U.S.-based freighter operator Kalitta Air may be forced to exit service at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, a key European hub for 15 years, over an ongoing dispute about take-off and landing slots. 

Kalitta operates the only scheduled all-cargo service between Schiphol and the U.S., but its on-time performance was compromised by the U.S. military, putting it in immediate jeopardy of being terminated because of slot capacity shortages at the airport.

The all-cargo carrier filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) in January, saying Dutch authorities were depriving it of the four weekly slots necessary to perform service guaranteed under the U.S.-European Union Open Skies Agreement. It further charged that majority slot holder KLM’s attitude is that Kalitta should simply serve another airport.

Schiphol authorities advised Kalitta in 2017 that they would begin strictly applying the “use or lose” provisions for slots and didn’t qualify to be grandfathered because of its previous operating history.

Kalitta, which uses B747-400 aircraft, argues that it always operated flights for which it was granted slots, but that flights were often subject to schedule changes out of its control. Arrival times at AMS are largely dictated by its customer, the U.S. Department of Defense, which books the eastbound legs for military charters to the Middle East, leading to substantial delays, or flights departing early. 

As a result of losing historic slots at Amsterdam’s airport, Kalitta has to depend on slots becoming available through returns from other carriers, of which there is scarce supply. 

The strict enforcement of the “use/lose” rules follows a decision by airport authorities to limit annual operations to 500,000 flights as a concession to area residents who complain about noise. The concession has effectively constrained airport capacity, foreclosed new airline and threatened to eliminate some existing service. 

The winners are the large incumbent slot holders at Schiphol — KLM and its joint venture partners — which continue to benefit from the DOT’s grant of antitrust immunity, Kalitta charged. 

In a separate filing to the DOT, the cargo carrier complained that the recent grant of antitrust immunity to joint ventures between Delta Air Lines and Virgin Atlantic Airways, and Delta and Air France KLM would “solidify the domination of SkyTeam members” at one of the most restricted European air hubs and squeeze out other operators.

JetBlue and consumer groups also warned that concentration of airline access is a barrier to entry for new competitors. The airline said it has been told that  take-off and landing slots at Schiphol will not be available in the “foreseeable future.” 

With the planned acquisition of Flybe by Virgin Atlantic, SkyTeam Alliance carriers will hold 61% of Schiphol slots, up from the current 59%.

The DOT expressed concern about the number of slots in Amsterdam to be controlled by alliance members, but said “there is no information in the record indicating that potential competitors are seeking slots for use immediately.” 

JetBlue proposes to begin serving Schiphol until 2021, while Kalitta is seeking immediate slots and faces eviction from the airport at the end of October if it does not obtain them. 

In May 2019, the DOT dismissed Kalitta’s complaint, saying Schiphol intended to make more slots available to cargo carriers. But the extra slot capacity, which took effect at the end of August, only applies to carriers that have qualified slots. Without historic slots, Kalitta must still rely on spare slots that become available. Kalitta is currently operating with 37 slots it accumulated during the summer, which may be sufficient to temporarily cover flights.

Without new slots at the start of the winter season, the carrier may finally have to terminate its 15-year Amsterdam scheduled service.