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KLM urges Netherlands’ Schiphol Airport to end flight cap early, plans fleet revamp

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The Dutch arm of Air France-KLM will press Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport to drop a capacity cap in December rather than extend it through March as planned, Chief Executive Officer Marjan Rintel said.

Schiphol needs to look at all options to address a labor shortage that prompted the curbs, including modifying a rostering system for security staff that’s efficient but unpopular, Rintel said in an interview Wednesday.

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“They need to take some tough decisions to solve these issues,” the CEO said at the World Aviation Festival in Amsterdam, adding that she will “push” outgoing Schiphol counterpart Dick Benschop and his successor to end the cap as soon as it comes up for review in December.

KLM was forced to extend a 20 percent reduction in capacity into the winter schedule after Schiphol said last month that the cap on departing passengers may not be lifted until April. The carrier is already facing damages of more than 100 million euros ($99.6 million) linked to the impact of the restrictions over the summer months, when it was unable to fully tap rebounding demand.

Speaking at the same event, Benschop said that the airport has endured “severe operational issues but that it’s seen improvement since putting an action plan into place.

Rintel said Schiphol’s cap appears especially extreme after London Heathrow confirmed this week that its curbs will go at the end of this month as a labor shortage eases and people fly less during the low season for travel. The UK hub said ad hoc restrictions may be imposed at the very busiest periods.

Whereas Heathrow has said its staffing crunch was focused on ground-staff at airlines, the issue in Amsterdam is overwhelmingly with airport security workers, she said. One easy fix would be for the government to drop a Dutch language requirement for such employees, Rintel said, given that so many of Schiphol’s passengers are from overseas.

The executive, who has been in her post for 100 days, said a longer-term concern surrounds government plans to permanently reduce operations at Schiphol to 2014 levels in a clampdown on noise pollution and carbon emissions that goes further than proposal in most other countries.

KLM would have to cut 30 destinations if the policy goes ahead, undermining its role as a global carrier, she said.

Concerns about sustainability will push KLM to prioritize fleet renewal, she said, with an order for jets to replace four aging Boeing Co. 747 freighters likely this year. Options include the Airbus SE A350F or Boeing 777XF.

Passenger versions of the same models will also compete to replace more than 30 777s that form the mainstay of the KLM wide-body fleet, with an order likely in the next one to two years. The Boeing 787, which the airline already operates, would probably be too small for the role, she said.

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