Air Transport World

The good things take a little longer: on the planning board since 1967, Schiphol's fifth runway is finally open. (Airport & Airways).(Amsterdam Airport Schiphol)

When airport authorities began contemplating a fifth runway for Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, the 747 was still a year away from roll-out, the Beatles were putting the finishing touches on "Sgt. Pepper" and Lyndon Johnson had high hopes of winning a second term in the White House. "I prefer not to look back, but forward," commented Schiphol Group President Gerlach Cerfontaine during ceremonies marking inauguration of the runway on Feb. 20, some three-and-a-half decades after planning started, eight years after the Dutch government finally gave the go-ahead and 37 months after ground was broken.

By most metrics, Schiphol is Europe's fourth-largest airport after Paris Charles de Gaulle, London Heathrow and Frankfurt, and the new runway will allow it "to absorb air traffic growth and continue to compete with other major European airports," Cerfonraine declared at the opening. With a length of 3,300 m, 18R/36L, or Polder as it has been christened--all of the airport's runways are named--is Schiphol's longest and its width of 60 in., or 75 m. including shoulders, means that it will be able to accommodate the A380. It is also the most expensive, built at a cost of [euro]320 million ($345 million).

The fact that Polder is opening at a time when Schiphol has unused capacity is a tribute to the airport planners' foresight. Still, one does wonder if a fifth runway was worth more than 30 years of lobbying. The airport handled 401,400 movements and 40.7 million passengers last year with four runways, while Heathrow handled 50% more passengers and 5% more flight movements with just two. Moreover, capacity of Schiphol's four-runway system was 460,000 movements annually while its 2002 movements were down from 416,462 in 2001. …

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