Amsterdam Airport Schiphol: leader in innovation for over 40 years

Posted: 3 December 2008 | Ad Rutten, Executive Vice President & Chief Operations Officer, Schiphol Group | 1 comment

On 28 April 1967, the then reigning Queen Juliana of the Netherlands opened the new Amsterdam Airport Schiphol: Schiphol-Centre. With its tangential runway system comprising four runways for take-offs and landings, its ‘one terminal’ concept with (at that time) three piers – each one complete with passenger bridges – its split-level arrival and departure halls, tax-free shopping centre and range of other facilities for passengers and visitors, the airport’s opening set a new standard in airport design and innovation.

On 28 April 1967, the then reigning Queen Juliana of the Netherlands opened the new Amsterdam Airport Schiphol: Schiphol-Centre. With its tangential runway system comprising four runways for take-offs and landings, its ‘one terminal’ concept with (at that time) three piers – each one complete with passenger bridges – its split-level arrival and departure halls, tax-free shopping centre and range of other facilities for passengers and visitors, the airport’s opening set a new standard in airport design and innovation.

Today, over 40 years later, Amsterdam Airport Schiphol continues to be a leading and innovative airport. With passenger volumes climbing to nearly 48 million in 2007, Schiphol is the fifth-ranking passenger airport and one of the four most important hubs in Europe.

Airport City

Amsterdam Airport Schiphol is far more than simply a place where flights take off and land: it is a city, an ‘Airport City’, with the full range of facilities you would expect to find in a regular metropolis. Moreover, the airport serves as the hub in a multimodal transport network, in which people and companies, logistics and retail, information and entertainment all come together to create a stronger whole.

In 1998, Amsterdam Airport Schiphol introduced the world to the ‘Airport City’ concept. One of the concept’s defining features was, and still is, the integrated development of facilities for passengers, visitors and businesses both on and off the airport premises. This approach has allowed the airport to serve as the driving force in attracting new business and transport activity, and as an economic engine powering the entire surrounding region.

The ‘Airport City’ concept has been adopted by many other airports since 1998. At the same time, Schiphol itself has been engaged in further enhancing and advancing the concept, for example by using the unique flair of ‘Dutch design’ to emphasise the airport’s Dutch identity.

Non-aviation activities

The ‘Airport City’ concept is inextricably linked with the airport’s non-aviation related activities, such as real estate development, the ‘See Buy Fly’ shops and other passenger facilities beyond passport control, the Schiphol Plaza shops in the general access area and the food and beverage outlets. In fact, Amsterdam Airport Schiphol was the first airport in Europe to have a World Trade Centre (1996) on the premises and to have within the terminal itself; a casino (1993), a museum – the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam Schiphol – exhibiting works by old masters (2002) and an XpresSpa beauty and wellness centre (2008). Moreover, it is also where the innovative citizenM hotel opened its first location in the world in 2008.

It is thanks in part to the success of the ‘Airport City’ concept that 77% of Schiphol Group’s 2007 operating results were generated by non-aviation related income.

Signposting and information facilities

One of the innovative features that set the new 1967 terminal apart was its system of illuminated yellow and green signs, with texts in Dutch and English. In this area too, Amsterdam Airport Schiphol continues to lead the way. Since 1990, signage expert Paul Mijksenaar has introduced a number of changes, such as the addition of pictograms, thereby ensuring that signposting at Schiphol remains a model for other airports around the world.

The way in which arrival, departure and other information is provided for passengers at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol is equally innovative: at the end of 2007, the last of a total of 2,000 Dynamic Display screens were installed at the airport. These screens ensure that passengers have real time flight and other information when and where they need it – whether in the arrival or departure hall or at the gate; a technique known as ‘narrowcasting.’ The screens also display commercial information such as advertisements.

In 2008, Amsterdam Airport Schiphol was the first airport worldwide to launch a fully automated, multilingual gate announcement system. The system can broadcast announcements in 14 different languages, allowing ground staff to concentrate more effectively on the boarding process. The system automatically detects which airline is handled at the gate and can adapt its announcements accordingly.

Passenger process

In 2007, nearly 48 million passengers travelled via Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. Passenger numbers are expected to continue growing in the years to come. Amsterdam Airport Schiphol is currently redesigning the passenger process and the necessary facilities in order to make use of available space. As an alternative to airport expansion, we are streamlining the flow of passengers through the check-in, baggage drop-off, security screening and boarding phases.

One of the aims achieved by this programme in 2006 was to furnish all of Departure Hall 2 with self-service check-in facilities for passengers flying with KLM and partner airlines. Self-service transfer kiosks have also been installed, once again in coordination with KLM, where transfer passengers who have missed their connecting flight can print out a new boarding pass for the next flight just by entering their data. The next step in the passenger process plan was the 2007 pilot of self-service baggage drop-off points and self-service border crossing stations. The first self-service baggage machine for passengers in Departure Hall 2 became operational in 2008.

Each of these elements are part of the airport’s innovative Redesign Passenger Process (RPP) programme, which has positioned Amsterdam Airport Schiphol as the global frontrunner in Simplifying Travel Programmes.


Frequent travellers need not wait for the completion of the RPP programme; they have been able to enjoy the use of Schiphol’s special frequent flyer facilities since 2001, as part of the airport’s Privium customer loyalty scheme. Privium’s key feature is its fast and safe automated border passage, by means of a biometric pass that employs iris recognition. Amsterdam Airport Schiphol was the first airport to implement this technique in 2001. The Privium programme, which currently has a membership of over 42,000, has also been introduced at Sukarno Hatta Airport in Jakarta in Indonesia, under the name ‘Saphire’, and has been chosen by the American government as a pilot project for the joint US-European Registered Traveller Program, to be launched in 2008.

The technique has also been adopted to screen staff entering secure areas in a number of airports, including Amsterdam Airport Schiphol and JFK’s Terminal 4.


By 2015, Schiphol will process an estimated 70 million items of baggage annually. Significant advancements are needed in baggage handling if Schiphol is to successfully meet this challenge, while also lowering the incidence of temporarily lost luggage and cutting costs. It was with this goal in mind that, in 2005, Amsterdam Airport Schiphol became first in Europe to test an automated robot system for loading baggage into containers and carts. An improved version, Robot 2, was installed in 2008. A total of six baggage robots will be installed in the New South baggage hall upon its completion in 2011; these robots are expected to become responsible for loading 60% of all baggage. Currently the airport is also testing automated systems for unloading baggage carts and containers.

Another European first came in 2006, when Amsterdam Airport Schiphol and KLM introduced the use of baggage labels fitted with tiny Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) emitters on all KLM flights. Thanks to this technology, the right suitcase gets sent to the right aircraft and can immediately be traced should its owner fail to show up at the gate. In 2008 Schiphol tested a new type of RFID scan tunnel that could easily be integrated into the existing baggage system.


Meeting the heightened security laws and regulations in place since 2001, while also keeping costs down to an acceptable level, is another of Amsterdam Airport Schiphol’s key objectives. Apart from deploying security personnel, the airport also relies on innovative technology for this purpose. Ultimately, the flow of passengers, baggage and goods should be part of a process that ensures maximum speed and safety for passengers.

As part of its security objectives, Amsterdam Airport Schiphol was the first European airport to pilot a new screening technique in 2006: the security scan. This system uses millimetre wave reflection technology to produce an image of body contours, enabling security staff to see immediately whether a passenger is carrying any prohibited items on his or her body. Security scanning has limited the need for body searches and has shortened queues at security control, making the entire process far more customer friendly. A total of 17 security scans have been up and running in the terminal since 2007.

In addition, a trial of a new hand baggage screening system got underway at the beginning of 2008. This system has the capacity to screen the hand baggage of multiple passengers at once, which results in reduced waiting times at security control.


In 2007, Amsterdam Airport Schiphol became the first airport anywhere in the world to introduce a new type of travellator – one that gives architects and managers of buildings like airports a fast means of redirecting passenger pathways. Since all components are fitted inside its handrails and 20cm platform, installation of the travellator does not require any holes to be drilled into the floor. Consequently, the travellator can be installed at any given location and subsequently extended, shortened or moved as necessary. The first of these innovative travellators is situated in the corridor between Pier B and Pier C.

Repelling birds

Birds and aircraft are not a good combination. Birds pose a clear risk to aviation as they can cause significant damage to aircraft engines. Amsterdam Airport Schiphol invests a great deal of money and a large number of staff in repelling birds and keeping them off the airport premises. In addition to conventional methods, such as the use of detonators and Border Collies, Schiphol is also coming to rely on an expanding range of technical aids, such as laser beams. In 2008, Amsterdam Airport Schiphol conducted a trial for the use of a radio-controlled robotic bird that resembles a bird of prey.

Community relations

Amsterdam Airport Schiphol works hard to enhance the quality of life for the surrounding region in whatever way possible. Whilst aircraft noise will remain an unalterable fact, Schiphol is collaborating with the local community and industry partners on a range of projects and innovations designed to diminish its disturbing impact. As such, the airport was the first in Europe to actively discourage the use of noisy Chapter 2 aircraft from 1995 onwards, and was also the first to implement a system for taking noise measurements.

Since 1994 this so-called Noise Monitoring System, or NOMOS, has provided an objective means for keeping track of aircraft noise in surrounding residential areas. The measurement data are used to inform the region about noise originating from Schiphol aircraft traffic. This data also forms the basis for research into ways to limit noise disturbance.

In 2008, Amsterdam Airport Schiphol launched an international competition for the design of an innovative sound barrier to reduce ground noise resulting from aircraft take-offs on Runway 18R-36L. An investigation is also being carried out to determine whether anti-noise systems can be used to reduce the disturbance from aircraft noise in bedrooms.

Quality of life and the environment

The development and smooth operation of an airport involves an ongoing, careful balancing act of economic and environmental imperatives. Amsterdam Airport Schiphol is keenly aware of its responsibilities in this regard. As early as the 1990s, Schiphol led the way in publishing the first environmental policy plan (1990) and the first annual environmental report (1992) of any airport in Europe. Schiphol was second only to Dublin Airport in obtaining international ISO 14001 environmental certification.

Amsterdam Airport Schiphol is also in the European vanguard when it comes to sustainability issues. Schiphol has teamed up with aviation sector partners and Dutch research institutes to help it achieve its goal of becoming Europe’s most innovative and sustainable airport, with an eye to combining growth of the airport with efforts to minimise its environmental impact.

The airport also seeks to assume a leading role in addressing the global climate problem. By 2012 Amsterdam Airport Schiphol intends to be climate-neutral in respect of all its own on-site activities and, by 2020, to rely on sustainable energy for 20% of all its energy needs.

In 2008, Amsterdam Airport Schiphol started using the world’s first Kerosene Vapour Processing System. Schiphol based fuelling company, Aircraft Fuel Supply (AFS), developed this innovative and environmentally friendly solution in close cooperation with IPCO Power, Imtech and Biosoil.

This system captures and processes kerosene vapours released during tanker refuelling, together with off-spec kerosene, the virtually pure kerosene released when tankers are drained each day, to generate electricity and heat. Annually some 1,000.000 m3 of kerosene vapour and some 250 tonnes of off-spec kerosene are processed. The system generates 330kW of electricity and 400kW of heat in this way, while also achieving a significant improvement in working conditions for tanker operators.


Amsterdam Airport Schiphol works in close cooperation with aviation sector partners and various centres of expertise in order to maintain its position as one of the world’s leading airports in terms of sustainability and innovation. The Knowledge and Development Centre (KDC) is an example of one such effort, in which Amsterdam Airport Schiphol has joined with KLM and Air Traffic Control the Netherlands (LVNL) to develop and implement environmentally friendly approach and departure procedures and to optimise airspace capacity around Schiphol. In the SIM Innovative Mainport Alliance, Schiphol, KLM, the National Aerospace Laboratory NLR, Delft University of Technology and TNO (the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research) have joined forces to realise innovative landside solutions.

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