Speech New Year's Reception 2018

Ladies and gentlemen,

Happy New Year! Lets start by raising our glasses.

On behalf of Jabine, Birgit, André and myself, I would like to wish you all the best for 2018. This will be a year of change for Royal Schiphol Group as we step into a new era of aviation.

As you all know, I will not be part of this journey, as I will be stepping down as CEO. But, while I'm still here, I can give you a glimpse of the future were about to enter. A future full of chances, challenges and changes.

What hasnt changed is that I will continue my speech in Dutch now. For our non-Dutch-speaking guests, an English version of this speech is available.

For nine years now I have been the CEO of Schiphol. That comes out to 108 months, 470 weeks, or – as of today – 3,295 days. To speak plainly, my days here are numbered J. Soon, I will be handing over my duties as president and CEO. Soon – but not yet.

For as long as I am still here, I would like to focus with you on Schiphol. Let's go back to 2017. What happened at the airport? What did we learn? Looking back, last year stands out as a year of pressures and of progress.

Last year was incredibly busy. Never before did so many travellers converge at Schiphol.

Over the whole of 2017, 68.4 million people travelled through Schiphol – an increase of almost 8% – with air transport movements totalling 497,000 , up 3.7%.

Cargo volumes grew by 5.4% to 1.75 million tonnes. A number of destinations was added, such as Bangalore, Dallas, Mauritius and San Jose, resulting in an increase of direct flights from Schiphol to 326. This makes us Europe's best airport for direct connections, with a hub connectivity ranking second in the world. That is quite an accomplishment.

However, those big numbers were also a cause of considerable pressure and tensions, which came to a head around the May holiday period. Even though we had just opened our temporary departure hall, the crowds caught us unprepared. There were long queues. Overflowing baggage belts. Packed departure lounges. On those three days in late April we did not make the grade.

With the airport bursting at the seams, we had to face the fact that the way we were doing things was not working. That's because everything Schiphol does is focused on a single goal: to ensure travellers depart and arrive safely, comfortably and on time so they can enjoy a stress-fee and pleasant journey.

Fortunately, we demonstrated yet again that when the going gets tough, Schiphol pulls together. Our people in operations worked incredibly hard. On landside and airside, and in the terminal and baggage basement, they went above and beyond.

Together with the airlines, handling agents, Royal Netherlands Marechaussee, Customs and our other business partners, we quickly got matters under control and came through the year with flying colours.

That deserves a round of applause and a very heartfelt thank you!

Besides pressure, those three crazy days in April 2017 also opened up opportunities for progress. Because crowds, like scarcity, are the new normal at Schiphol. This is something we understand only too well.

I am proud of the steps taken over the past year to respond to these pressures, not only by deploying more staff but also in the form of new solutions like 'small bags only' and digital tools to keep travellers better informed.

Digital passport control is a great case in point. NoQ gates are now up and running at all of our border passage checkpoints, and were used by some 10 million travellers last year. This is furthermore an excellent example of a successful joint effort with the Dutch authorities, in the form of the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee.

Airlines are also making more and more smart use of data collected by Schiphol. For instance, by integrating our wayfinding in airline apps, and by using our security data to check if passengers have cleared security yet and are on their way to the gate. If not, the airline can then determine whether or not to wait for them.

As well as immediate solutions, we are also making good progress on measures for the longer term. We are on schedule with development of the new pier and terminal, for which we are tearing down the P2 car park and rerouting roads, resulting in new parking landscape at Schiphol.

Next year, the first flights will be able to land at Lelystad in April and at Schiphol, the first planes will dock at the new pier before the end of 2019. And in 2023 our new terminal will be ready to welcome its first passengers.

This added landside and airside capacity is essential to meet growing demand. Of course, our top priority in everything we do is and remains safety, and we will never make any concessions on this point.

Pressures, meanwhile, will not be abating. Not at Schiphol. Not in the air. Not in aviation.

Do you remember this time last year, when we capped our 100th anniversary? It was a year filled with celebration! Scarcely a year after our big centennial celebration, the festive mood seems to have turned. Political and public sentiment about aviation has changed. Has the Netherlands fallen out of love with aviation?

That's a question I have thought about a lot these last weeks. How will I leave Schiphol in a few months' time? What advice do I want to pass on to my successor? And is it my place, as outgoing CEO, to continue to voice my opinions and vision?

If I'm not careful, I'll be remembered as the guy who wanted to rule from beyond the grave. That is certainly not my intention. However, aviation is always about the long haul, the extended view. With this in mind, I would like to take the opportunity, while I still can, to share a few thoughts with you.

Primarily, I am concerned about three issues:

  1. The first is that we seem to have lost our magic. Where once upon a time people stood in awe of aircraft and their graceful flight across the sky, these days most see it merely as a means to get from A to B. The love affair with aviation seems to be ebbing away, leaving us with a paradox. Though more and more people want to fly, aircraft themselves are, increasingly, regarded as a nuisance. They pass overhead too often, make too much noise and produce too many emissions. At the same time, however, more and more people want to work and live near an airport.


  2. The second issue is the erosion of the perception of Schiphol as a driver of the Dutch economy. This is despite the fact that Schiphol continues to contribute substantially to the national business climate, employment and commerce, and that we live in a globalising world where international connections are becoming only more important. The question is whether economic interests provide a carte blanche to grow without regard for the costs. Clearly, the answer is no. More than ever, we have to weigh the benefits very carefully against those costs. But we should also take care not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.


  3. The third issue is flagging trust in the sector, owing to a lack of alignment and outdated agreements. The consensus model that until recently served us so well in relations with our neighbours and industry partners needs a reset.

These are all issues we have to tackle together. Working together, in my eyes, is and will always be crucial.

So let's join forces. Let's change the way we look at aviation. And let's work on finding the right answers and the right solutions.

I know that some of those solutions are still beyond the range of my imagination, but what might Schiphol look like ten years from now? If I were take a sneak peek at 2028, this is the Schiphol I envisage:

It's another gorgeous spring day. The air traffic control tower glistens in the sun. There's a brisk breeze blowing, which is a good thing, since for ten years now the airport has been powered by green energy from Dutch wind farms.

The latest generation Airbus, successor to the A320neo, is taxiing to Pier A. This ultralight hybrid aircraft is charged using solar panels and produces far less noise and emissions of its predecessor.

Inside the new terminal, passengers are getting ready to board their flights. At the Düsseldorf gate, biometric boarding has eliminated the hassle of passports and boarding passes, as passengers are recognised by the facial scanner.

In fact, the airport's seamless flow means they can easily progress from one point to the next, with extra screening only for passengers who form a potential risk. Incidentally, this is one of the last flights bound for Düsseldorf, as we are only days away from the opening of the new High-Speed Line from Schiphol. After that, demand for short-haul flights in Europe will decline fast.

A brief glance into the future reveals that Schiphol and the whole industry really can be different on multiple fronts. The key, however, is to work together. On all fronts.

But particularly on three: Sustainability, Clarity and Action.

Sustainability – in the broadest sense – is the catchword for the future. There is an increasing emphasis on both the costs and benefits of flying. We can, want and need to fly greener.

Aviation is by definition an industry of pioneers. If we can make flying ever faster, safer and more efficient, then surely we can also make it quieter, more fuel efficient and more environmentally friendly.

At the same time, we have to stop to ask whether air travel is the best option when there are more sustainable alternatives. Investing in high-speed train links, for example, offers a far better alternative to short European flights.

With developments in zero waste airports, biofuels and hybrid aircraft, we seem to be on the right track. But there is also a lot more we need to do.

Clarity. Certainty, predictability and custom solutions are important to everyone, including to our neighbours. We have to get all aviation partners back on the same wavelength, and to re-establish consensus in the sector. We need to reach workable agreements with government on sustainable development, selectivity and air space.

We also have to create greater clarity for the local community. Topics such as noise, the MER (environmental impact assessments) and developments surrounding Lelystad Airport are all major concerns. They are raising lots of questions among local residents as well as among officials. Let's ensure that we furnish them with clear answers.

A double check on the Schiphol MER– no matter how solid the results – will, hopefully, serve to engender more support. The same applies to clarity on Lelystad Airport. This has been public knowledge for nine years. Naturally, I agree that it’s crucial to exercise all due caution. However, this airport is a necessity and should go ahead as agreed starting from April 2019.

We also have to be crystal clear about the airport's economic and societal value, demonstrating Schiphol's vital contributions to Dutch prosperity and welfare.

Aviation is an engine for jobs, a vital link in the import and export marketplace, and instrumental for tourism. As an employer, Schiphol fosters inclusivity, with people from all sections of the population, all education levels and all backgrounds represented in our workforce.

The airport also offers an excellent place to do business and fuels the exchange of knowledge. Schiphol ensures that Amsterdam and all of the Netherlands is connected to compete, creating a competitive edge we cannot afford to lose – even now with economy flourishing again.

We also connect to complete, serving as valuable social catalyst to unite people around the world, and contributing to welfare and well-being in the process.

Air travel is for everyone. Ninety-four per cent of Dutch people have travelled through Schiphol at one time or another. We are the hub that offers millions a safe, accessible and affordable means of travel – whether by air or rail – while developing sustainable solutions and circular innovations.

The third front on which we have to work together is in taking Action, which means doing what we plan to do. We have to act on the clear sustainable agreements that have been made.

Working with the industry as a whole and with the airport's local neighbours will help to build political incentive. As our former Minister for the Environment Ms Dijksma noted, aviation is a complex matter. More complex than rail, certainly in the public debate. It is up to us to make it less complicated for the new minister.

By pointing the way, we can help create the incentive for political action. Most crucially, for a new aviation policy document that sets out clear parameters for our own sustainable development and targeted action.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In 2017, activity soared to record levels at Schiphol. This is our new normal. We have been able to turn the resulting tensions and pressures into solutions and progress. In 2018 and the years that follow, let's focus on future chances, changes and challenges.

With fresh faces, renewed energy and innovative ideas.

By working together on all fronts for sustainability, clarity and action.

And by uniting to ensure aviation continues to hold a special place in the heart of the Netherlands.

Thank you.