JetBlue, which plans to operate between the United States (US) and Amsterdam Schiphol Airport (AMS), the Netherlands, has finally managed to secure landing slots at AMS. However, the airline is not happy with the slots, pointing out that the allocation comes with several caveats.
The New York John. F Kennedy International Airport (JFK)-based carrier initially announced plans to fly between the US and Europe in April 2019, with the first destination being London, the United Kingdom (UK). Two months later, the airline announced that it has converted 13 Airbus A321neo orders to the A321XLR, a then-recently announced model.
“Like London, JetBlue will explore European cities that suffer from high fares or mediocre service and those which are effectively controlled by legacy carriers and their massive joint ventures,” read the airline’s announcement at the time. In August 2021, the carrier began flying between JFK and London Heathrow (LHR) as well as Gatwick Airport (LGW), also serving the two airports from Boston Logan International Airport (BOS). On March 7, 2023, JetBlue announced flights between JFK and Paris Charles de Gaulle International Airport (CDG), beginning on June 29, 2023.
However, its expansion plans to AMS were restricted by its inability to acquire slots. In February 2023, JetBlue filed a complaint with the US Department of Transportation (DOT), citing “anti-competitive” and “discriminatory” behavior on behalf of the Dutch government.
Allocating “questionable” slots to JetBlue
After filing with the DOT, JetBlue received a response from local authorities, which provided the carrier with the sought-after slots.
“After years of requests and denials, the slot coordinator for AMS, Airport Coordination Netherlands (ACNL), contacted JetBlue on March 8, 2023, a day after the due date for answers in this proceeding, with an allocation of slots,” JetBlue said in a filing on March 21, 2023.
According to the carrier, the ACNL provided ex-Flybe slots that “are ad hoc and temporary in nature”. While the carrier “accepted” the slots, it claimed that they are, firstly, at “commercially questionable slot times” and will not have historic rights attached to them in the following scheduling season, which is Winter 2023. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), Winter 2023 will begin on October 29, 2023.
By gaining slots once held by the now-bankrupt Flybe, JetBlue will have rights to land at 3:00 PM local time (UTC +1), which would result in a departure time of 1:20 AM local time (UTC -5) from JFK.
The airline stated that “ACNL has provided no explanation as to why these prior FlyBe slots, which had historic status, have been made available to JetBlue on only a temporary basis”.
As such, the flights that would begin in the summer would not continue during the next scheduling season, resulting in a “return to the status quo only a few months after any initiation of JetBlue service at AMS would be extraordinarily disruptive, precluding a U.S. carrier from maintaining any continuity of service in the Amsterdam air services market”.
In early March 2023, in response to the initial DOT filing by JetBlue, the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management’s (MIWM) Director for Civil Aviation Henri van Faassen stated that traffic rights and slots are independent of each other.
“The Agreement provides for traffic rights, not slots. Furthermore, the Agreement does not contain any provisions on slots. For each airline, the slot allocation process in the Netherlands is governed by the EU Slot Regulation,” read van Faassen’s letter.
JetBlue responded that this is “no justification for the Government of the Netherlands’ continued failure to take the steps necessary to facilitate JetBlue’s first-time service at AMS”. Furthermore, JetBlue said that the Government’s response that it does not govern the accessibility to AMS is “dubious” given the fact that the airport is owned by the government. According to the Royal Schiphol Group, which manages the Dutch capital’s main airport, as well as two other airports and one airport where the group is a majority shareholder, the Dutch government has a 69.77% stake in the Royal Schiphol Group.
Initially, JetBlue wanted the DOT to intervene and, if the Dutch government failed to provide the airline with slots, to impose a condition for KLM to give two slots to JetBlue and look at all prior grants of antitrust immunity.
But KLM, in a response filed on March 21, 2023, reiterated that “JetBlue has failed to demonstrate it has been unjustifiably discriminated against, or that relief under IATFCPA [Air Transportation Fair Competitive Practices Act – ed. note] is warranted”. The Dutch airline wants the DOT to use “diplomatic avenues” to reach a resolution in the conflict, avoiding the “unilateral imposition of one-sided discriminatory countermeasures that will harm not only KLM and its alliance partners but also passengers, shippers, US airports, and others”.
KLM added that JetBlue’s acceptance of the pair of slots to operate between BOS and JKF and AMS indicates that the US airline found them “suitable for JetBlue’s proposed services”, and even if they are non-historic, “there is a reasonable likelihood JetBlue will receive these slots for the Winter traffic season as well”. KLM concluded that “there is no basis on which to continue this proceeding”.