I have flown to Amsterdam four times now, once VFR and three times IFR. It is probably the biggest airport that a European PPL can visit. It is therefore a challenge and, when you’ve done it, a source of pride. Plus it’s very impressive for passengers. Don’t let the size put you off. It is surprisingly GA-friendly and easy to do, providing you prepare yourself properly.
The GA terminal is on the Northeast corner of the field and there is a runway right next to it. If you go in VFR, the approach is fiddly and low-level but you arrive right next to the terminal and have a pretty straightforward time of it. It means approaching a point several miles east of the field called Point Victor just below 1,500 feet. This is an easily-identified intersection of roads and canals. From there you turn towards the airport and begin a gentle descent to Point Bravo which is on the corner of a park. Once you report Bravo the tower will tell send you to either end of the runway 04-22 for a threshold join or to the centre for a mid-point join. The runway is long enough to turn at one end at 500 feet as if turning final and still land with plenty of room left. Avoid aiming at the wrong runway – the one you want is partially obscured by hangars until you get pretty close.
Every time I have visited I have landed and taken off on 22/04 which is dedicated to GA traffic but I have sometimes been vectored to other runways first.
Although it has loads of runways, once you know which one you’re going to (and they told me when I was half way across the North Sea) it was just like an ILS approach anywhere. Nothing to be worried about.
It’s worth studying the ground charts and planning your touchdown points and runway exits just in case they bring you in on one of the main runways rather than the GA runway.
When I went in March 2008, they vectored me for an ILS on runway 36R and then I broke right at a few hundred feet to land on 04 which runs up to the GA parking area.
More recently, they told me to expect 18R (which is a couple of miles taxi from the GA terminal) and then changed it to 22. They brought me in on a four mile final and I had to drop down from FL70 in short order. I still managed to put it down on the numbers and make the first exit right into the GA parking area. Great fun, especially with a 12 knot gusting crosswind.
When you leave, call clearance delivery. They will often give you a SID but sometimes the tower controller changes this at the threshold to give you a heading that will take you right over the centre of the airport at low level. Either way is fine but the airport tour can be a bit of a surprise if you’re not expecting it.
On the ground
On the ground, you’ll be met by a follow me truck and then a van to drive you from the ramp to the terminal. Passengers quite enjoy the VIP experience which is enhanced by parking next to some very flash business jets.
You can book in over the internet, although be careful to check if you need an arrival slot as well. Handling was pretty efficient and the terminal was pretty smart with a pilot’s lounge and other facilities.
If you call KLM JetCenter on the radio when you are fifteen minutes out they will call a taxi and have it waiting for you. From plane to taxi generally takes about ten minutes but sometimes you have to wait a while for a cab to arrive.
They have 100LL fuel but it is a self-service pump. I did it once and it took a long time to deal with the paperwork. I think Jet-A1 comes from a bowser and might be easier. I try to avoid fuelling up a Schiphol now.
Returning to the GA terminal can be difficult. Two taxi drivers have insisted on taking me to the main passenger terminal. Ask the staff at KLM for a map to the GA terminal and hand that to your driver. The key phrase, if I recall correctly, is ‘Schiphol Oost’ (Schiphol East).
Schiphol is not cheap. Last time I went, in a Cirrus SR-22, it cost me over 200 euros. Also, beware the additional navigation charge levied through Eurocontrol for IFR flights. It’s only another 20-30 euros but it can be time-consuming to pay it as they invoice you after the flight.
Schiphol was opened as a military airfield in 1916 but quickly switched to civil use after the first world war with the national airline KLM beginning operation in 1920 and a hut for passengers arrived in 1921. In 1926 the Amsterdam municipality bought the airport.
A proposal to close both Amsterdam and Rotterdam airport in favour of a new centralised airport didn’t meet with much favour from Amsterdam residents. In July 1938 more than 15,000 people rallied at the airport in favour of keeping the airport. This is surely a first.
During the war the Germans attacked the airfield and then used it. By 1945, it had become virtually unusable and it took heroic efforts to allow the first DC-3 to land on 8th July.
Since then the airport has grown and grown with the result that it is one of the largest and busiest airports in Europe and becoming, in the words of the operating company, an Airportcity.
- KLM Jet Center
- Department : SPL/WH
- P.O. Box 7700, 1117 ZL SCHIPHOL, The Netherlands
- Phone: +31(0)20 6492455
- International airport: www.schiphol.nl
- GA Handling: www.jetcenter.nl
- Handling requests can be made online or by phone.
- Note that slots are required at busy times. These can be booked with KLM. See also: www.slotcoordination.nl
I am learning Dutch and so I try to visit The Netherlands every month or so. Here are my top recommendations for visitors to Amsterdam:
- The Rijksmuseum. During the current renovations, the best bits of the collection are on display in a small, walkable exhibit. Lots of Vermeer, Rembrandt and so on. Excellent. Buy tickets online in advance if you’re visiting on a weekend.
- The Van Gogh Museum. Fantastic collection of Van Gogh’s works. I prefer the old masters but my wife loves this museum. Again, buy tickets in advance.
- The Amsterdam Historical Museum. A good insight into the history of the city and the people who live there. I like museums but I reckon this is better than a boat tour.
- Restaurants: Moeders for authentic Dutch food, De Bakkerswinkel in the centre for perfect Dutch sandwiches and cakes, Cafe ‘t Smalle in the Jordaan for an antique pub that is very friendly with seats outside by a pretty canal and, if you have time, try to visit and Indonesian restaurant and have a rijstafel. For fine dining, Restaurant Christophe and La Rive both have Michelin Stars and I can recommend them both from personal experience.
- Walking around. The centre is very compact and it is lovely to just wander around the canals and streets to see what you see. You can get taxis back to the airport from Central Station or Liedseplein (and I’m sure other places too but this is where I go).
A few words of Dutch
Most Dutch people speak English and some speak it very well indeed. However, I like to surprise them by mispronouncing their own language so here are a few useful words and phrases.
- Goede Morgen / Middag / Avond. Good morning / afternoon / evening.
- Tot ziens / Dag. See you later / g’day.
- Dank u wel. Thank you (polite).
- Alstublieft. Please (polite)
- Naar Amsterdam / Naar de luchthaven. To Amsterdam / to the airport (e.g. isntructions for a taxi driver)
- Ik wil graag een koffie . I’d like a coffee.
Other ways to fly to The Netherlands
- Rotterdam. I prefer Rotterdam Airport to Schiphol for IFR trips. It’s not cheap but it is friendlier, smaller and easier to get into. Public transport in Holland is so good that you can get anywhere pretty fast by train. It’s actually easier for The Hague and pretty towns like Delft as well as, of course, Rotterdam itself.
- Maastricht. I only went to Maastricht airport once and that was to visit a great restaurant in Belgium. Still, it’s a good mid-size airport. [Update 20.9.12 - I've been back a few times and it's much more GA-friendly now and Maastricht the town is well worth a visit.]
- Lelystad. During daylight hours Lelystad is a VFR-only airport but at night it reverts to IFR and has an NDB approach. However, on an IFR trip you can drop out of controlled airspace over the Ijsselmeer down to a low level and fly the last few miles VFR into the busy circuit. It is, however, the best GA airport I have ever visited with a lovely restaurant, a great museum and good facilities.
- Eelde / Groningen. In the North, Eelde Airport is an excellent IFR airport that is friendly and not too big but fully equipped. The nearby town, Groningen is nice to visit too. I went there a lot a few years ago to get our group’s Cirrus aircraft upgraded with DMEs.