PLANNING BLUNDER OR GREAT VISION?
Everyone who frequently flies in and out of Schiphol will be familiar with the infamous runway 18R/36L, nicknamed the "Polderbaan" or "polder runway" ("polder" refers to the typical Dutch phenomenon of dry pumped lake beds, on which Schiphol is built).
Opened in 2003, the runway is located a whopping 3 miles (4.5 km) from the terminal area and it can take 20 minutes or more to taxi from the runway to the gate!
Some people refer to it as a planning blunder, but is it? In today's post, I will argue that the runway's remote location was actually well considered.
THE 'ENVIRONMENTAL RUNWAY'?
So, why was the runway so far away from the airport? In the early 1990s, when the project was going through the public consultation phase, the runway was pitched to the public as the "environmental runway".
Supposedly, its location was optimized so that departure and arrival routes would avoid overflying built-up areas as much as possible, supposedly explaining its eccentric location.
However, the runway first appeared in planning documents in 1968, when there was a lot less urban development around the airport and when jet noise was much less of an issue.
CHANGE OF PLAN
Over the years the thinking about Schiphol's long-term evolution has changed. Current plans envisage a second terminal building north of the current terminal complex, rather than northwest. This location would optimize connections to the existing terminal as well as existing road and rail connections.
For the huge area in between runways 18R/36L and 18C/36C, planners have come up with the idea to construct yet another runway, which would provide Schiphol with four parallel north-south runways. This would still not preclude the development of satellite buildings at some point in the future.
AN UNCERTAIN FUTURE
Currently, Schiphol can still accommodate growth within the current runway system and terminal area. A new terminal and Pier A will open in 2023, raising the capacity with 14 million annual passengers to a total of about 80 million annual passengers.
However, with almost 500,000 aircraft movements in 2019, growth at Schiphol has hit a political ceiling. Currently, a national discussion is ongoing on if and how to accommodate growth in the long term.
The Dutch government as well as the general public traditionally have taken a pro-growth stance. However, with addressing aircraft emissions becoming an ever more urgent priority, the outcome of the discussion is currently uncertain.
One thing is certain however; if the government does decide to allow further growth, plans are ready to accommodate it!
What are your thoughts about Schiphol's long-term development? Let us know in the comments below!
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Marnix (Max) Groot Founder of AirportHistory.org. Max is an airport development expert and historian.