Speech New Year's Reception

Speech by Jos Nijhuis, President & CEO of Royal Schiphol Group


Ladies and gentlemen,

Happy New Year! And on behalf of Els, Birgit, André and myself, I hope that it’s a year in which things go well for you, your loved ones and your organisation. This is our first New Year’s reception as Royal Schiphol Group. Last year – when we celebrated our 100th anniversary – we became Royal Schiphol Group. That was a tremendous honour and a great privilege. Following tradition, I will continue my speech in Dutch now, but an English version is available for all our non-Dutch-speaking guests.

I’m unsure of how your holiday season was, but I needed a little time to recover from all the developments of 2016. It was an eventful, intensive and turbulent year. I’m thinking of ‘Brexit’, the American presidential elections, and the many appalling terrorist attacks – including those in Istanbul, Brussels, Nice and Berlin. The world has changed before our very eyes. Our shopping districts have changed, too – well-known retail chains seem to have fallen like dominoes, even though the economy appeared to be on the upturn.

Here at Schiphol, last year was eventful, intensive and turbulent, too. See for yourself!

As I was saying earlier – 2016 was eventful, intensive and turbulent. One of the more turbulent aspects was the growth of traveller numbers. In 2016, 63.6-million travellers passed through Schiphol – representing growth of 9%. We also booked more than 479,000 flight movements, which represented an increase of 6.3%.

The number of direct destinations from Schiphol was unchanged at 322. The freight volumes grew by almost 2% to 1.7 million tonnes.

So it was a challenging year, because we also had to handle:

  • Preparations for the new pier and terminal’s construction – the first small-scale model of which stands here today

  • safety and security issues combined with serious understaffing at the Royal Dutch Military Police (Marechaussee)
  • Strikes or the threat of protest
  • Taxi touts who continued their activities – and were permitted to do so. In my view, this is shameful for Schiphol.

Some things were planned. Some things were totally irritating. And some developments came about quite unexpectedly.

In one particular example, we were surprised by traveller volumes. Of course, we were prepared for all sorts of scenarios. But these were mostly cautious scenarios that were predicated on fewer traveller numbers. We, just like many forecasters and economists, remained in ‘recession mode’ for far too long. This is a clear lesson for the future.

On a positive note, we then responded quickly and effectively to this rapid growth. It wasn’t always easy. Rapid growth is often painful. But thanks to the flexibility and problem-solving abilities demonstrated by many of our people – both landside and airside, in the terminals and in the baggage basements – we managed the year excellently.

The people in the operational sector – the people working for the airlines and handlers, the Royal Dutch Military Police and Customs, other business partners and our own great operational staff – have performed fantastically. They deserve huge praise. I am grateful for their flexibility and their problem-solving abilities.

The most visible and tangible result of this period of rapid growth, and Schiphol’s ability to anticipate it, is the construction of the temporary departure hall. We came to such a quick agreement! Getting the necessary permits also went smoothly, and the building was standing in no-time-flat! It was wind-and-waterproof before Christmas; in April, the first traveller’s suitcases will be rolling through the temporary departure hall – just in time for the busy May holidays.

That temporary departure hall got me thinking.

We were at ‘situation critical’ – travellers were almost at the point of tripping over each other. Not only for a few peak days every year, but instead we were at peak capacity week after week. I realised that when situations became that dire, Schiphol managed to join forces and tackle those things together. To quickly arrange appointments with each other, and work together to ensure that safety and smooth processes go hand-in-hand.

That’s something positive to note at the start of 2017. Because I guess that this year will be just as eventful, intensive and turbulent as 2016 was. This year, we will also be facing challenges. It’s just that the form these challenges take that will be different. There will not only be physical challenges, but administrative ones too.

The Aviation sector is growing in the Netherlands – it is growing today and will continue to do so in the future. We know that we can expect 500,000 air transport movements up until 2020. And we will be adhering to these numbers. Even though demand is increasing, we will no doubt at times have to say ‘no’.

But we still need to charter a definitive course for the period after 2020. And the time to do that is 2017. Our window of time is short. We need to ensure that we remain ahead of schedule. Airlines, residents, politicians – and also we as an airport – all need to plan for what lies ahead. It’s crucial to secure the future of Schiphol. We need to do start doing so now.

Our starting point is a future-oriented agreement framework. An agreement framework that balances noise reduction, main-port development and quality of life for the surrounding region. Sustainable choices for the sustainable growth of Schiphol as main port.

That’s not only good for Schiphol – it’s good for the Netherlands, too. If you support the Netherlands’ development, then you support Schiphol’s further development, too. Schiphol allows trade and tourism, employment and social development to soar, both literally and figuratively speaking.

I intentionally referred to an agreement framework. The goal must be the guiding element in the agreements, not a means to an end. For instance, we can achieve noise reduction in various ways. This freedom should be granted. There are more paths to Rome than a fourth runway.

Maybe we should reconsider the way in which we arrive at this agreement framework.

You might still remember my recommendation from last year. At that time, I said ‘Let’s stop the endless consultations with too many parties at the table.’ I still believe this today. Can’t we find other ways of working together, of arriving at decisions, of making progress?

So how might we do this? We live in a time where the essence of success and progress lies in change, in anticipating developments rapidly, in flexibility. This also requires new ways of working. And pondering this these days, I always think of Post-It notes straight-away.


They used to only come in yellow, but nowadays in all colours of the rainbow. You see them used everywhere. In offices or on computer screens, of course. But that’s actually very old-school. Nowadays, you stick Post-It notes on brown papers, on walls and on windows. Post-Its stand for a new and different approach to intensive collaboration.

These days we’re scrumming almost everywhere – and almost all of us are involved. But I’m not really talking about Scrum or Agile ways of working. That’s more of a method, a means to an end. What really concerns me is the agility, flexibility and speed with which decisions can be made. With which products are launched and what choices are made. Complicated projects become manageable by cutting them up into Sprints. Meetings are out, stand-up and conferring is in.

These developments are important. When all those involved in a chain work together intensively, we achieve results. Together you develop things. You make improvements. You do so continuously. You’re flexible. You can quickly respond to new developments. The goals are clear. The route to get there is not. Again, many paths lead to Rome.

It would mean a lot to me if we could shape the future of Schiphol in a modern way. We really don’t need to swap Hans Alders for a Scrum master. But one way or another we need to incorporate the principles of flexibility, agility, decisiveness and speed into our consultative bodies. That’s quite simply because the future of Schiphol can’t be determined in agreements and with plans set in stone. They will be overtaken by events before you manage to press ‘enter’.

A new way of working together and dealing with each other would be good for the sector as a whole. Why? Because we’re losing. We’re losing trust – trust in each other. Trust in the government and the trust of the government. And due to this latter aspect we’re losing money, too.

Sometimes we receive a bit of a helping hand – think of the 135 extra Royal Dutch Military Police officers, although we only actually need 450.

Sometimes we don’t even get that. Think of the 190 million that we requested for border and security process innovation. We’re not getting any money at all, just ‘support’. Whatever that might be …

Sometimes I cynically ask myself how much priority safety and security actually get. But I’m not a cynical person. I also judge myself, and I judge us.

Because you can also see it in this way – together, we were unable to convince the government of the importance of investing in safety, security and innovation for our sector. Security is a high priority for all of us. So what do governments – regional, national, European – see when they look at us? Contradictory signals. Individual interests that are being put before shared interests.

And that’s actually quite strange. Because there is so much more that unites us than divides us. Ninety percent of the time we agree with each other. So why spend so much time focusing on the other ten percent? I’ll be frank about it: I do it too. But you can’t block the cooperative process because you disagree on one single issue.

We really should stop doing this. I myself am really going to stop doing this. Let’s focus on the ninety percent connecting us. And use that as the basis for further growth and development of Schiphol main port. I don’t know whether Post-It notes will help us here, but I’ll truly welcome a new way of working together.

By the way, that also applies to the way government works. More than ever before, I missed an integrated approach from government in 2016. Coordination, speed and decisiveness could be better in regard to many issues. I’m thinking here of the developments concerning the Royal Dutch Military Police, borders and security, taxi touts, regional housing development and Lelystad Airport.

We’re going to keep emphasising this point. All the more so in this election year. Maybe I should be very clear about this right now. There will be a new coalition agreement in any case. And whether this is a 136-page policy document, just two sheets of paper, or 75 tweets: Schiphol must be mentioned. Because as I said just now: If you support the Netherlands development, then you support Schiphol’s further development.

And while I’m at it, I’ll make a suggestion to put into writing right now. So dear politicians, please jot this down. This is how it can sound in the coalition agreement:

‘Schiphol can grow sustainably, in balance with its surroundings. Our integrated approach aims for a flexible agreement framework.’

Less than 140 characters. Plain and simple, straight down the line. That should appeal to the modern politician.

Although it might be good to add another tweet. Because we’re still experiencing major difficulties with selectivity. If there’s some kind of hassle or trouble, they look at Schiphol. But there is nothing we can do about it. We simply don’t have the tools. The way things are now, matters aren’t manageable.

So please throw in another tweet that says:

‘And we as government will also make clear what selectivity actually means #hetmoetwerkbaarzijn [#itmustbemanageable]’

Just two tweets, and Schiphol is all set for years to come. That should be possible, shouldn’t it?

Ladies and gentlemen,

2017 won’t be less eventful , intensive and turbulent than 2016 was. But as far as I’m concerned, things can become much more agile and flexible.

Let’s make it a year in which we collaborate intensively, respond quickly and act decisively.

A year in which we make sustainable choices for the sustainable growth of Schiphol main port.

And a year in which together we ensure the future of Schiphol in an inspiring way. And thus the future of the Netherlands, too.

Let’s do it!

Thank you very much.