AMSTERDAM, Oct 31 (Reuters) - Authorities in the Netherlands tried on Tuesday to defuse a Russian threat to close Russian air space to Dutch planes in a dispute over landing slots at Schiphol, Europe’s third-busiest airport.
Russia has threatened to enforce the ban from Saturday. It would mainly hurt Air France subsidiary KLM, the former Dutch flag carrier and the only Dutch airline that flies over Russia.
The Dutch transport ministry is “in talks with several parties over the availability of slots for freight traffic at Schiphol,” said spokesman Roel Vincken, who declined to comment further for fear of negatively impacting the talks.
The Dutch Airline Pilots Association confirmed the threat.
A spokesman for the Russian transport ministry said KLM and Russian freight carrier AirBridgeCargo were in talks about KLM giving up some of its slots as part of a possible compromise.
Russian-Dutch relations have been tense since the 2014 downing of Malaysia passenger flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine, which killed 298 people, most of them Dutch.
The Russian threat to close its airspace followed the trimming of slots available to AirBridgeCargo at Schiphol from 23 to 13 on Oct. 28, as part of Schiphol’s half-yearly re-allocation.
AirBridgeCargo’s Dutch chief Henk-Jan van Keulen said in a telephone interview that his company has been forced to reroute almost half of its traffic through Liege, Belgium, using trucks.
Van Keulen said financial damages were difficult to estimate, as they are lessened by lower fees at Liege and are being partly borne by the various freight forwarding companies it works with.
Dutch Airline Pilots Association spokesman Joost van Doesburg said the organization has received a request from KLM to add an extra pilot to all flights travelling to Asia, as they will have to re-route beginning on Saturday.
This will add hours of travel time to every flight if Russia follows through on the ban.
“It’s only a threat but you have to prepare,” Van Doesburg said.
“Russia does this sometimes when it feels countries aren’t giving appropriate attention to a complaint.”
De Telegraaf reported that around 15 percent of KLM’s flights would be affected. A KLM spokeswoman said the airline would respond later.
A spokeswoman for Airport Coordination Netherlands, the organization which allocates slots at Schiphol, said it only responds to written questions and would try to answer them “in a timely manner.”
The organization’s website says that under its transparency policy, the press is not an interested party in decisions about landing slots and it does not share such information with the public. (Additional reporting by Gleb Stolyarov. Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)