Dick Benschop this summer at a press conference about the problems at the airport.Statue Arie Kievit

    Since the May holiday, there have been persistent problems at the airport with long lines and travelers missing their flights. Schiphol is struggling, among other things, with a shortage of security guards. The situation is also dire when it comes to baggage handling. Benschop has not been able to put an end to these problems in recent months.

    Things improved in the summer months after a social agreement with the unions. In the agreement it was agreed to give security guards a surcharge of more than 5 euros per hour. Last Monday, after the summer allowance was scrapped, the extremely long queues were back. Schiphol asked airlines to cancel some of their flights.

    Although none of the parties involved explicitly spoke out against CEO Dick Benschop, doubts arose about his ability to tackle the problems. As CEO, Benschop says he will now take responsibility: ‘I don’t want attention for my person to become an obstacle for Schiphol. I’ve done my very best, but we’re not there yet. I do hope things get better soon.’

    Schiphol’s commissioners have approved his departure. Benschop, former State Secretary for the PvdA and former CEO of Shell Netherlands, has been the CEO of Schiphol since 1 May 2018. His second four-year term began on May 1 of this year. Benschop’s predecessors lasted significantly longer. Jos Nijhuis was in charge from 2009 to 2018, Gerlach Cerfontaine was at the helm from 1998 to 2009.

    Race down

    Minister Harbers of Infrastructure and Water Management was informed today about the departure from Schiphol, although the decision was already taken yesterday. The Dutch state owns about 70 percent of Schiphol’s shares. According to Harbers, it is to Benschop that he is leaving after the ongoing problems and ‘does not want to stand in the way of their solution’.

    The reactions to Benschop’s departure are otherwise mixed. The FNV union calls it regrettable and thinks it is delaying a solution of the problem, which is structural in nature: ‘Schiphol got stuck far too far in the race to the bottom. That was already part of the strategy before his arrival.’

    Fewer flights also in October

    Due to the continuing problems, fewer flights will depart from Schiphol in October. That is what trade association Barin says of the airlines that are active in the Netherlands. According to Barin, the number of flights should be reduced by 18 percent, but Schiphol does not mention a concrete number.

    According to the airport, the security companies that Schiphol hires are unable to fill the rosters. The number of available security guards is expected to decrease further in the coming period.

    Barin calls on not only Schiphol to come up with solutions, but also the government, as the airport’s main shareholder. Higher salaries and the costs of better working conditions must be paid by Schiphol: ‘That also means that ‘The Hague’ as a major shareholder must accept that Schiphol’s profitability will come under pressure.’

    KLM above all emphasizes that it understands the decision: ‘In the interest of our customers, I expect that things will be put in order quickly and adequately’, says president-director Marjan Rintel. Trade association Barin says it does not want to comment on the question of whether Benschop is right to resign. ‘But the dot on the horizon in terms of solutions has not been reached’, concludes spokesman Marnix Fruitema.

    Schiphol must shrink

    The shortage of security guards was far from Benschop’s only problem. The work of baggage staff has been physically too heavy for years, which means that some of them suffer from physical problems. Instructions from the labor inspectorate from 2004 were hardly followed, it turned out research of the NOS and news hour. Schiphol’s choice to allow several handling companies to compete with each other at the airport may have played a role.

    Moreover, there is an increasing social debate about Schiphol, for example when it comes to the airport’s contribution to CO2 and nitrogen emissions. Where for years it was all about growth, Benschop was told that Schiphol must shrink at least 10 percent, to a maximum of 440,000 flights a year. Lelystad Airport should have given Schiphol some air by taking over tens of thousands of holiday flights per year, but due to protests from local residents, that airport will not open in the coming years.

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