Lelystad Airport will become the second Amsterdam airport but phased growth is needed to temper local concerns

1 November, 2017

Lelystad Airport’s construction works are “on schedule” according to Jos Nijhuis, Royal Schiphol Group’s President and CEO, which means that airport may be able to accommodate part of the extensive demand at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport from Apr-2019.

The Netherlands’ Council of Ministers approved a draft decision to develop Lelystad Airport for commercial use in order to cater for overflow at Schiphol Airport in 2014, and the intention has been that it should take over some of Schiphol’s holiday flights though there has been airline resistance.

MAP - The city of Lelystad is built on reclaimed land approximately three metres below sea level. It was founded in 1967 and named after Cornelis Lely, who engineered the Afsluitdijk causeway that made the reclamation possibleSource: Google Maps

There are three main reasons behind the decision to grow Lelystad, which is situated some 40km (25 miles) to the east of Amsterdam. Firstly, it is wholly owned by Royal Schiphol Group. Secondly, while it is a general aviation airport, the infrastructure is in place for it to play a more significant commercial role. For example there is a 1250 m asphalt runway which can be extended.

But the third reason holds the greatest significance, namely that Schiphol Airport has been expanding at a faster rate than was envisaged and planned for, as traffic data shows. The passenger growth rate 2015-16 was 9.2% while the first nine months of 2017 saw a rate of 7.7%.

CHART - Annual passenger numbers at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol are growing at a significant rate and the Netherlands' hub remains one of Europe's fastest growing major airportsSource: CAPA - Centre for Aviation and airport reports

In order for Schiphol to retain its attraction as an intercontinental hub airport – which is a crucial component of Amsterdam’s status as a business city and a ‘World City’ and of the aerotropolis that is growing around it – lower value traffic must be encouraged to use other facilities nearby, and which are of an acceptable standard to them. Eindhoven Airport, 80 km to the southeast of Amsterdam and which is majority owned (51%) by Schiphol Group, already partly fulfils that role, giving Lelystad a base on which to build.

However, rapid growth at Lelystad would not be acceptable to nearby residents and a phased development of Lelystad Airport is necessary in order to accommodate selective growth at Schiphol.

The original intention was that Lelystad would attract mainly budget airlines, holiday charters and regional airlines. KLM expressed opposition to the opening of Lelystad even to low-cost and leisure traffic, its CEO opining “No airline at Schiphol is eager to move to Lelystad...” A full year after the government approved Lelystad’s expansion even Royal Schiphol Group’s own CEO said that no new airlines had shown interest in operating there.

That situation has since changed. In Jan-2015 Ryanair said it was considering services from both Schiphol and Lelystad airports in the future and that interest has continued to the present day. The new reality is that Ryanair has acknowledged the value of the primary airport hub, where not only is it likely to be able to access more higher revenue passengers, it might also act as a feeder to low cost long haul operators or even full service long haul operators. It is an airline less wedded than it was to market share and load factor and has been operating at Schiphol. At the same time Ryanair is unlikely simply to give up its long-established advantage at secondary level airports, where it knows how and when to price out competitors.

There is evidence that Ryanair would like to take control over Lelystad completely if it could, having stated often that it would like to take all the slots there, if the price is right. The Irish LCC will have competition, though. Transavia, the wholly-owned LCC/charter subsidiary of the Air France-KLM group with its main base at Schiphol and secondary bases at Eindhoven and Paris Orly airports is now equally interested in launching services to and from Lelystad. Royal Schiphol Group has recently said that airlines will be incentivised to move from Schiphol to Lelystad but that might not now be so necessary.

There is a need for expansion of the existing infrastructure to be in place. While it includes a serviceable and extendable runway, the terminal and associated buildings are really geared towards general aviation business flights rather than the mass market.

Paul de Ruiter Architects and Noordelich Architekten were awarded the contract to design a new terminal building to enter service in Apr-2019, to the concept of Lelystad being “a preferred leisure airport”. At the same time the general aviation fraternity is intent on staying put which might mean Lelystad functioning at either end of the spectrum – hosting both budget airlines and business jets.

In Apr-2015 the Dutch Government stated that Lelystad will be allowed to develop to handle up to a maximum of 45,000 flight movements per annum by 2044 in order to relieve pressure on Schiphol, and that figure has since been confirmed by the Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment.

The expansion will include a longer runway, up 2,700 metres in length, and width of 45 metres, and supporting facilities to handle larger aircraft such as the B737 and A320 series, and from two to five million passengers per annum (the current capacity is 100,000 ppa). According to the CAPA Global Airport Construction Database, expenditure of close to USD100 million is being incurred on the infrastructure upgrade.

There are some concerns about the complex airspace infrastructure in the region, with Rotterdam Airport less than 50 km from Amsterdam in addition to Eindhoven, and other large airports in Belgium and Germany. And, while an environmental assessment has been completed there are still local concerns.

Finally, there is the matter of how removing air services away from Schiphol to Lelystad will influence the development of Schiphol’s airport city and associated aerotropolis, which is one of the world’s leading aviation-related clusters.