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The Community Impact of the Schiphol Airport Essay

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Updated: Feb 23rd, 2022

An airport can influence the community living near it in various ways, both positive and negative. On the one hand, it creates jobs and stimulates the economy by creating a stream of travellers to and from the location. On the other, this new stream of people can overload the location’s infrastructure, and the airport also generates noise and pollution that can significantly affect the environment and the inhabitants’ health. Due in part to the emerging paradigm of corporate social responsibility, airports worldwide have been taking measures to reduce their negative influence on the community without jeopardising their benefits. The Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, which is one of the busiest in the world, is an excellent example of how to benefit the community while minimising the damage. To illustrate its efforts and their results, this essay will review the socio-economic and environmental effects of the airport and provide further recommendations.

Socio-Economic Influence

Schiphol Airport generates massive amounts of traffic, which make it a significant contributor to the regional economy. InterVISTAS (2015) claims that it has processed 52.5 million passengers and 1.5 million tonnes of cargo in 2013, in addition to the services it provides to airlines. As a result, it likely generates vast revenues, which are then distributed throughout the community in the form of staff salaries, various supply payments and other forms of spending. With that said, it should be noted that, according to the Royal Schiphol Group (2020a), its January-August traffic has declined by 66.2% compared to the same period in 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic, which has harmed aviation worldwide, is most likely the principal cause of this decline. The airport will probably recover from the situation, but it may take some time for it to do so.

The indirect impact figures of the Schiphol Airport support the notion that its income is spread through the surrounding region. Aside from various utilities and necessities such as food, an airport also needs to procure numerous other items, including transport, electronic devices, uniforms, cameras, lighting, and other minor products. As a result, the Schiphol Airport is connected to a vast network of companies, both domestic and foreign, which receive a substantial portion of its revenue. Estimates by Droogleever Fortujin et al. (2018) suggest that local supply for the airport creates jobs for 50,000 workers (or 40,000 full-time equivalents) worth €3.2 billion, bringing its total associated staff to 114,000 workers that contribute to 1.3% of the Dutch GDP. However, the airport’s socio-economic effects are not limited to this figure, as its induced and catalytic impacts also have to be considered.

It is challenging to evaluate the first category, as the earnings of the Schiphol Airport’s employees are not publicly known. Similar to most businesses, the facility does not disclose the exact figures. With that said, it is still possible to assume the overall economic effects of the workforce, at both the airport and its suppliers, and Droogleever Fortujin et al. (2018) do so and project an added value figure of €9 billion. These workers spend their earnings in the region, as well, further improving the overall circulation of wages in Amsterdam. When viewed from this perspective, it becomes apparent that the Schiphol Airport is a critical element of Dutch infrastructure that contributes heavily to its surroundings.

With that said, the existence of the airport has effects beyond its direct contribution to the economy. InterVISTAS (2015) states that over 500 global firms use its grounds for office, warehousing, retail and other spaces. The location is highly convenient because its extensive local and worldwide connections via road, rail and air facilitate efficient time usage for local and foreign workers. Per Graham and Dobruszkes (2018), the emergence of this district was the result of a concerted effort by the government and Schiphol Group to develop real estate at the airport and near it. As Drljača et al. (2020) note, such districts, which have become known as airport cities, ultimately generate dedicated production-oriented infrastructures. As a result, additional local businesses emerge, further increasing the employment in these areas and stimulating further growth.

The social effects of Schiphol Airport are extremely challenging to evaluate due to its location. It serves Amsterdam, which, per OECD (2017) data, was central to the Netherlands’ growth with a $49,676 GPD per capita in 2015. As such, the direct influence of the airport on the regional economy can be challenging to estimate, as the city houses a substantial portion of the nation’s GDP, and the Schiphol Airport is a single contributor of many. With that said, the airport’s role in this success cannot be understated, as it has contributed dramatically to Amsterdam’s emergence as a worldwide travel and commerce hub. InterVISTAS (2015) praises Schiphol’s rise to becoming one of the four major European airports despite its small domestic market. Without it, the people of Amsterdam and the Netherlands would likely not have seen their living standards increase to the current levels.

Environmental Effects

The most prominent environmental concern surrounding the Schiphol Airport is noise, which has been a source of substantial complaints. Aeroplanes, especially larger ones, tend to be loud, and airports, where they take off and land, are a significant source of noise pollution. Franssen et al. (2002) find that the airport noise led to annoyance, sleep disturbances, cardiovascular disease and reduced performance among nearby residents. Franssen et al. (2004) confirm this finding, surveying 11,812 people living within 25 km of the airport and discovering statistically significant increases in health complaints and medication use. Areas where aircraft was louder demonstrated lower self-reported health outcomes, reinforcing the notion that noise pollution was responsible. In addition to lowering the citizens’ quality of life, the noise is also likely to provoke complaints, creating tension between the airport and the community.

With that said, the studies mentioned above are substantially dated, and the Schiphol Airport has since had an opportunity to address the noise concerns. Berti Suman (2018) describes how, in spite of the Dutch government’s refusal to acknowledge the noise issue, the people living around the facility developed a citizen sensing approach that identified noise levels and associated risks. The airport’s management would eventually recognise the concerns of the community and respond with measures that are designed to minimise noise. Hansman (2015) describes a park designed to mitigate noise that was completed in 2013, featuring a large number of landscaped furrows that deflects various varieties of noise better than traditional barriers can. The project succeeded in halving the average noise emanating from the airport and bringing it within acceptable levels, but the airport is researching additional noise-reducing measures it can take.

Waste is another notable concern, as airports have the potential to produce substantial amounts of it due to the heavy passenger traffic moving through them. With that said, most of it is organic and biodegradable, and the only notable waste concern for Schiphol is related to illicit drugs that are dumped by criminals (Maurer & Brandt, 2019). However, that problem is crime-related and unlikely to generate substantial amounts of pollution on the national or regional scale. Moreover, this mode of waste is best managed by expanding the measures taken to pursue and stop drug producers as opposed to improving waste management systems. Presas (2017) also confirms that the airport has excellent waste and wastewater management systems in place, contributing to Amsterdam’s overall reputation as a clean city. As such, while it may have an impact on the environment, it is well-managed and minimised effectively.

Emissions, on the other hand, are a significant problem, typically originating from aeroplane engines and spreading throughout the region. Presas (2017) mentions frequent complaints regarding odour, which are attributed to traffic, as well as carbon dioxide emissions, though neither substantially damage the air quality in terms of health hazards. With that said, air quality still has to be managed, as it may have subtle and underresearched long-term effects on population health and the environment. Pirhadi et al. (2020) discover that airport departures, arrivals and associated activities, notably car traffic to and from the airport, contribute to 79.3% of the total polluting particle emissions near Schiphol. These problems, as well as those of odour, need to be addressed to improve the overall well-being and satisfaction in the region.

Schiphol Airport has taken multiple measures to address its emission issue, but success has been mixed. As Senguttuvan (2016) explains, it has attempted to address the 40 million passengers per year environmental limit by transferring short-haul traffic onto rail as opposed to air traffic. Trains can use electric engines, which reduce their emissions, and carry large amounts of passengers with relatively low energy expenditures, making them more environmentally attractive than cars or aeroplanes. Another measure the airport has undertaken in the past is a “green tax,” which is imposed on airlines for the pollution they produce. However, Jakhu (2016) highlights how, in 2008, Schiphol lost 18% of its passengers to neighbouring airports as a result of the tax-related price increase, which prompted the abolishment of the measure. Ultimately, other actions that do not affect airlines and passengers as severely are required.

As a major airport, Schiphol also consumes energy on a large scale to power its various amenities and operations. The Royal Schiphol Group (2020b) claims that it uses over 200 GWh of energy annually, which is the equivalent of 50,000 households. These requirements have a substantial effect on the power grid, and the methods involved in the production of this energy will likely generate additional waste and emissions. It should be noted that, per Benito and Alonso (2018), the Schiphol Group has committed to exclusively using wind-generated electricity at all four of its Dutch Airports. The environmental dangers of that mode of production, such as the condemnation of land, threat to animals, and noise, both auditory and electromagnetic, should still be considered (Govorushko, 2016). Ultimately, most modes of energy generation involve substantial amounts of pollution, for which the airport is at least partially responsible.

With that said, the airport is actively taking measures to address its energy consumption. Notable approaches that are highlighted by the company include replacing lights with LEDs and switching off systems (Royal Schiphol Group, 2020b). Sturgis (2019) describes an innovative approach known as the “circular economy” for the former, where the burden of designing the lighting system and maintaining it is on the supplier, incentivising them to develop efficient techniques to minimise their costs. The seller is only required to provide a given illumination level and paid for it regardless of the effort needed to achieve it, being driven to achieve it with the fewest light fittings. Sanseverino et al. (2016) add that the airport’s adjacent business district has been designed with sustainability and energy savings in mind, as well. Overall, Schiphol Airport’s effect on energy consumption and associated pollution is substantial, but it is taking measures to address the issue.

Socio-Economic Improvement Recommendations

The Schiphol Airport is a high-performing enterprise, as demonstrated as its status as one of the busiest airports in Europe and the world as a whole. It has likely achieved this success through excellent economic practices, and the paragraphs above demonstrate its recent attitude shift toward socially friendly practices. Gitto and Mancuso (2017) confirm this notion, collecting passenger opinions and only finding negative responses regarding the lounge as well as neutral views toward the food and beverage provided, with the rest positive. As such, all of these services warrant research and improvement into how they underserve customers and how their operations may be improved. In doing so, the airport would attract additional visitors and generate revenue based on the increased popularity of its amenities.

On that note, the passenger data collection methods employed by the Schiphol airport warrant additional consideration and potential refinement. The study by Gitto and Mancuso (2017) used blog data as an example of how information may be gathered online. It was able to produce 54 customer impressions for Schiphol alone while discussing five different large European airports. A more focused and well-funded analysis would likely create a superior quantity and quality of results, which can then be applied in practice. Moreover, it is unnecessary to restrict the search to blogs, as there is a large variety of sites that host customer reviews and impressions of locations and services. Overall, the Internet presents substantial opportunities for data collection, and, with the advent of modern technologies such as big data analysis, the Schiphol Airport can use it as a knowledge base for its service improvements.

There is likely a multitude of other advances that the airport can employ to improve its overall economic performance, but most of them will be relatively minor. The facility does not appear to have any fundamental large-scale flaws in its operations, as indicated by the steady growth of its business. Mastrigt et al. (2019) find opportunities for boarding improvement at Schiphol by overcoming the hand luggage, lack of preparation and communication bottlenecks, and most initiatives will be similarly small. By developing a multitude of small advances internally, the airport will be able to achieve substantial economic performance improvements over time.

The COVID-19 situation is the last item that warrants consideration, as it has damaged the Schiphol Airport’s performance dramatically. A large portion of flights worldwide is still cancelled, reducing the revenue that the facility generates without lowering the fixed costs of operation. The incurred losses also have a social effect, as the airport has been forced to lay off several hundred workers to cope with its €246 million loss in the first half of 2020 (The Associated Press, 2020). With the expectations of traffic returning to normal levels by 2023 at the earliest (The Associated Press, 2020), the Schiphol Airport will need to downscale its operations, at least temporarily, or develop other substantial cost-cutting measures. Some social damage is likely unavoidable, but it is unlikely that the airport will have the resources to compensate for it in the near future, and it should instead focus on economic recovery.

Environmental Recommendations

The Schiphol Airport already devotes substantial effort and resources to its noise mitigation efforts, as the construction of the park mentioned above demonstrates. However, while it has succeeded in reducing the noise, the fundamental issue has not been resolved. In the future, the airport will likely expand its traffic, and the current efforts may be inadequate for keeping it within acceptable levels. Moreover, further improvements in current reduction efforts would probably be appreciated by the community living near the airport. Upham et al. (2003) define this issue as the environmental limit on the growth of airports. However, Ho-Huu et al. (2017) propose an algorithm for optimal departure routes that enable traffic increases while reducing noise and emission levels. Through measures such as the one indicated, concurrent growth and environmental performance improvements can be achieved with limited investment.

There is also some potential for optimising arrivals to reduce the amount of emissions produced and create overall efficiency. Ellerbroek et al. (2018) propose a continuous descent approach that they claim can save 39 million kg of fuel annually, increasing CO2 savings by over 123 thousand tonnes. In a constant descent, the aircraft increasingly relies on its momentum to move as opposed to engines, reducing the usage of the latter and thereby saving fuel. With that said, the practice will slow the pace at which the aircraft descends, as the goal is to minimise fuel use as opposed to landing as soon as possible. Ellerbroek et al. (2018) admit that the approach can add significant flight time to the current figures, which can create dissatisfaction among passengers. As such, the airport will have to consider the trade-offs of the proposal before committing to a decision.

Regardless of the airport’s quality of waste and wastewater treatment system, there are always opportunities for further growth and improvement. Potential problems can be addressed, and innovative methods that further reduce the pollution produced by the airport should be implemented when they become available. Caspeele et al. (2018) discuss the implementation of a predictive sewage system maintenance system at Schiphol that use digitally collected data to identify potential problem areas and address them before any failures can occur. Currently, the airport conducts repairs after breakdowns are determined, creating the potential for waste leakages that harm the environment. Lodder and de Roda Husman (2020) also highlight the possibility of using wastewater to track the spreading of diseases, notably COVID-19. As a travel hub, the Schiphol Airport can supply substantial quantities and qualities of information regarding the spreading of epidemics and the measures that are effective at stopping it.

The energy usage matter can be challenging to resolve, as the airport has limited opportunities for savings due to its busy operations. As such, this essay would recommend investigating alternate power sources that supply it with the required energy without creating excessive pollution. The option that the author would recommend involves nuclear energy, which is inexpensive to produce compared to the alternatives and generates little to no pollution. Nuclear power (2020) states that, while the Netherlands currently only possess one atomic reactor in Borssele, many private investors are interested in the prospect of establishing new plants. The airport could collaborate with the broader region to commission the construction of a local plant that supplies power for Schiphol and Amsterdam.

Conclusion

Ultimately, Schiphol Airport is a largely positive force for the surrounding community. It generates a large number of jobs and contributes to a substantial portion of the nation’s GDP. At the same time, while there have been environmental issues in the past, the airport has taken measures to address them, including an extensive noise-reducing landscaping project. As one of the busiest and most successful airports on the planet, the Schiphol Airport has developed a robust relationship with the community that can be useful to other facilities worldwide as a reference. With that said, issues such as COVID-19 still affect it strongly, and opportunities for improvement are present. The airport may be able to enhance and expand its future operations further by considering some of the recommendations presented.

References

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