Have cake and eaten it? Has abolition of departure tax helped KLM and Amsterdam?

Image: Giant 200 metre-long cake
To encourage new services Schiphol recently announced a freeze on fees until at least 1 April 2010. In July it also won an anna.aero Cake of the Week award for this giant 200 metre-long beauty baked to celebrate the abolition of the much-hated Ticket Tax.

The abolition of the government imposed departure tax at the end of June was welcomed by many people in the industry as well as tourism leaders in the Netherlands. It existed for exactly one year from the beginning of July 2008 to the end of June 2009 and applied only to origin and destination (O&D) passengers, and not transfer passengers. With traffic data now available from Amsterdam up until the end of August is there evidence to indicate that the removal of the tax has had a positive impact on demand?

Chart: Amsterdam airport traffic - Year-on-year change in passenger numbers
Source: Derived from Schiphol Group data

At first glance it would appear that the trend in O&D data has improved as soon as the tax was removed. The year-on-year change in O&D passengers at the airport, which had been running at around minus 15% has dramatically improved to just minus 6.4% (in July) and minus 3.6% (in August). However, even without the removal of the tax July and August figures were bound to improve as they were being compared with the first two months of the tax’s introduction last year.

A more relevant comparison is to see how O&D figures compare with the corresponding month two years ago. Between January and June Amsterdam’s O&D traffic was down an average of 13% compared with 2007 while in July and August the corresponding figures were minus 11% and minus 10%. This does suggest that the abolition of the extra charges has had a small positive effect which may take a while to become more obvious. However, a similar analysis of transfer passengers shows that in July and August they were down just 2% to 3% compared with 2007. To encourage new services, and to help retain existing ones Amsterdam Schiphol airport recently announced a freeze on airport fees until at least 1 April 2010.

Share of transfer traffic is stable at Amsterdam

Between 1992 and 1997 the share of transfer traffic at Amsterdam boomed from 31% to 42%. Since then it has hovered between 41% and 43%. This share of transfer traffic is lower than at Frankfurt (around 50%), but higher than at London Heathrow and Paris (between 30% and 35%).

Chart: Amsterdam airport traffic 1992-2008 - Annual passengers (millions)
Source: Schiphol Group data
Image: Maastricht’s first tax free passengers also got a slice of cake
In July Maastricht’s first “tax free” passengers also got a slice of cake, or rather a “vlaai” – a local fruit pie.

Eindhoven now busier than Rotterdam

Apart from Amsterdam there are four other Dutch airports with scheduled services; Eindhoven, Groningen, Maastricht and Rotterdam. In 2007 Eindhoven overtook Rotterdam to become the country’s second busiest airport in passenger terms.

Chart: Dutch (non-AMS) airport traffic 2000-2008 - Annual passengers (millions)
Source: Individual airports

Eindhoven has embraced low-cost carriers and currently serves 30 destinations with scheduled services of which 14 are provided by Ryanair, nine by transavia.com and three by Wizz Air. Passenger numbers at the airport have more than quadrupled in just six years.

Rotterdam is served primarily by Transavia.com with 12 routes but VLM offers ‘business’ services to Hamburg, London City and Manchester. Maastricht’s three scheduled services are all provided by Ryanair (to Alicante, Girona and Pisa) while Groningen also currently has just three scheduled services including bmi Regional’s year-round service to Aberdeen.

UK and US are leading country markets

The UK is by far the leading country market for scheduled flights from Dutch airports. No less than 22 UK airports have direct flights to Amsterdam operated by a range of carriers including bmi, bmibaby, easyJet, Flybe, Jet2.com, KLM, Transavia and VLM. The US is the second biggest country market with KLM and its SkyTeam partner Northwest operating the majority of services. Sixteen different US gateways are served with Continental, Delta (now merged with Northwest), United and US Airways also present. British Airway’s experiment of serving the market (to New York JFK) with its OpenSkies brand ended in mid-August.

Chart: Top 15 country markets from Netherlands - Weekly departing seats
Source: OAG Max Online for w/c 5 October 2009

While most of the remaining top 15 country markets are in Europe, Canada (12th) and China (14th) also make the list. KLM serves Beijing, Chengdu and Shanghai non-stop from Amsterdam while China Southern also operates daily flights from Beijing to Amsterdam.

KLM and partners have 60% of capacity

Although 83 airlines serve the Dutch market KLM, Transavia.com (which KLM owns) and Northwest (its SkyTeam partner) share around 60% of scheduled capacity. The leading non-KLM associated airlines are easyJet and Ryanair.

Airline Frequency share Capacity share Number of routes
KLM 51.6% 48.3% 113
Transavia.com 7.3% 6.8% 63
Northwest 2.3% 4.6% 8
easyJet 3.3% 3.7% 10
Ryanair 2.2% 3.0% 17
Air France 3.0% 2.5% 6
Source: OAG Max Online for w/c 5 October 2009

easyJet currently operates to Amsterdam from seven UK airports, Basel, Geneva and Milan Malpensa (with new daily services to Madrid and Rome beginning in early November) while Ryanair operates 14 routes to Eindhoven and three to Maastricht, mainly from its bases in Italy and Spain.


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