Aircraft noise nuisance is currently in the spotlight. While the ceiling for Schiphol is defined in the number of aircraft movements, and this airport must be reduced from 500,000 to 440,000 flights per year, the noise contours are decisive for Maastricht Aachen Airport. In this way, the development of our southernmost airport is also slowed down.
‘We are dealing with a noise bucket that is filled with every plane that arrives or departs here,’ says Hella Hendriks, Marketing & Communication Manager at MAA. “The speed with which the bucket is filled depends, among other things, on the type of aircraft and the time of flight. On the basis of this model, an airport can earn growth by making arrivals and departures mainly during the day and by discouraging the arrival of noisy aircraft as much as possible. A flight departing between 06:00 and 07:00 counts ten times as much as the same flight departing between 07:00 and 19:00. And a Boeing 747-400 puts almost 1.5 times as much weight in the noise bucket as a Boeing 777. So there are consequences if we let a machine take off or arrive between six and seven in the morning or after eleven at night. so much more if it concerns a type who is part of the older generation.’
‘The move to ban certain Antonov types is from a much earlier date. These machines can only come to us in the case of humanitarian transport,’ says Hendriks. ‘The reports show that the Boeing 747 is considered the main culprit for many local residents. Especially in the corona era, many charters came here that were carried out with 747s. Whether it’s a 200, 400 or 8, the people who are bothered by it usually don’t know. Whether it was one with a red tail or a blue one.’ The measure recently announced by the Israel Airports Authority (IAA) that four-engine aircraft will no longer be permitted to fly to and from Israel from March 31, 2023, is going way too far for Maastricht Airport at the moment . “We are not about building an airline’s fleet. However, by introducing a surcharge, we discourage the arrival of older noisy machines. In doing so, we follow the Schiphol system. When that supplement was introduced in 2019, the number of Boeing 747s calling at our airport was halved compared to the previous year. During the corona pandemic, that impact was much less.’
Hendriks explains that in that period air cargo could hardly or not at all be transported in the belly of passenger planes because they were tied up en masse. Not only KLM took the rapidly phasing out 747-Combis from stable again, passenger aircraft with cabin cargo also increasingly entered the airspace. “All cargo planes that could be used were also used,” says Hendriks, “including the Boeing 747. But now the decline of this type continues again.”
Liège has space
“Until last summer, the opportunity to earn growth was always there for MAA,” she continues. “Wasn’t it because we never filled our noise bucket to 100 percent. This extra space, which has never been used before, is expected to be crossed out and discarded in the new airport decree. It has actually been said: the level for 2019 is your level for the future, it is the size of your noise bucket. We are happy to remain open and it is a challenge how we can grow, become more sustainable and limit noise pollution. However, a large part of our license will expire, and quite a few people are still not satisfied. Part of our growth capacity is gone, and Liège can now use it. Liège has plenty of space, Liège can expand.’ This is also the intention of the Belgian airport. There is a goal to more than double the number of cargo flights in the coming decades, with the expectation that the number of night flights will increase by 27 percent.
Just as much noise nuisance
Many municipalities in both Dutch and Belgian Limburg are concerned about the future plans for Liège Airport. ‘The independent NLR (Dutch Aerospace Center, ed.) has mapped the aircraft noise over ‘our’ Limburg in 2019,’ explains Hendriks. “It is clear that most of the air traffic over Meerssen and Beek comes from us. Logically, both places are at the far end of the pitch. Elsewhere you also hear many planes flying over from Liège and Kaldenkirchen.’
In the coming year, in the period 8 May to 30 June, at least no one will have reason to complain about aircraft noise from Maastricht Aachen Airport. Hendriks: ‘Dura Vermeer will renovate our runway during that period.’ MAA is still only allowed to use 2,500 meters of the 2,750 meter long track. According to former politician Pieter van Geel, who presented his report on the future of the MAA in January 2021, an airport that also functions as a cargo airport must be able to use the 2750 meters in its entirety. “It’s up to the province to decide on this,” Hendriks says. “They are the formal applicant for the airport decision.”
Steps towards sustainability
In addition to the shed built in 2014 and 2015, there is still room for another. “More planes can then be deployed, but the question is whether we will choose it. Building another shed costs a lot of money. Whether it can ever be caught up with the capacity we get with it? With the facilities we have now, 200,000 tonnes can be handled on an annual basis.’ The airport sees several possibilities for the huge amount of square meters available at Maastricht Aachen Airport. “At the moment, the addition of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) is not yet a commitment, but we are working on the first step towards sustainability. The next step will be electric and hydrogen-powered flights. As an airport, we have an enormous amount of square meters. There is therefore room for , that solar panels can generate green energy. The storage of that energy becomes a challenge, because the moment an airplane wants to charge up, there must be sufficient energy storage.’
Socially accepted status
Hendriks does not expect air cargo transport to become electric in the short term. “Cargo planes are so colossal. In the beginning, electric flying will mainly take place with the smaller machines,’ she says, referring to light aircraft with 19 seats. ‘They make it very attractive for a regional airport to connect to hubs such as Amsterdam, Berlin and Munich. This could definitely become a revenue model for us,’ she expects, assuming that electric flight will become more affordable and gain a socially accepted status.