As the 5th busiest airport in Europe (14th in the world), Schiphol Airport handles more than 56,000,000 passengers per year. They offer more than 300 destinations with more than 100 different carriers. Approximately 10% of all flights are strictly cargo, with no passenger service.
War is Tough
It began life in 1916 as a military air base during WWI, but once we got past the folly of the First World War it began to be used for civilian aviation purposes. Pretty soon the military ceased operations so it was entirely civilian services. By 1940 there were four runways at a 45° angle away from each other so landings were easy no matter what the wind direction was. Easy, that is if you had a slow commercial plane that could manage to stop in only ~3,300 feet (1,000 meters), or a WWI or WWII biplane.
Unfortunately it wasn’t long before someone else thought of that. In 1940 it was captured by the Germans as part of their WWII effort. The invading army re-named it Fliegerhorst Schiphol and built several “mock” airports in the surrounding area to fool Allied bombers, but by the end of 1943, it was put out of commission and the Germans abandoned it.
The Modern Age
Post-war it was quickly restored (July 1945) and four years later it was decided that Schiphol would be the main airport for all of the Netherlands. Of course it was quickly re-named, after the war, to Amsterdam Schiphol Airport.
Runways were far too short for the modern age. Original runway 4/22 (Oostbaan) was extended to 6,600 feet (2,000 meters) and remains in use to this day for smaller craft. There are now six runways, three running N/S, two running NE/SW, and one more running E/W.
This landing video is noteworthy because the landing takes place on the newest Polderbaan runway 18/36 which is so remote that taxiing to the airport terminal often takes between 10 and 20 minutes when it is busy, and it involves driving over top of the highway on a specially designed bridge/taxiway, as shown in the last webcam view (below).
If you don’t want to watch the tour, final approach begins around the 10:00 mark, and the trip over the highway can be found at about 14:00 minutes.
As always, I recommend right-clicking on the video and changing the Play Speed to “Ludicrous”, to emulate a subsonic jet-fighter, but in this particular case, if you want to experience the ride to the terminal, too, leave it on high speed!
The airport has grown so large and dispersed that it was impossible for the old Air Traffic Control tower (1960) to oversee the whole thing. In 1991 new ATC towers began to be added. These two towers have nothing to do with J.R.R. Tolkien, however.
The original ATC tower building was retired and preserved (after a fashion). It now serves as a popular restaurant that seems to have magically gained an additional story during the rebuilding. In reality, this is from the reverse angle without the obscuring roof of the neighboring building in the way, so mystery solved.
Nowadays the airport terminal sits atop the major Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS) railway terminal for the ultimate convenience of passengers heading to and from Amsterdam, The Hague, Rotterdam and Utrecht. Even the Thalys International HS (High Speed) train calls this one of their many stops, which includes Antwerp, Brussels, and as far as Paris, and on to Marseille (or Bourg St. Maurice in winter).
Of course, the reason you’re here, is that you really want to watch planes land/take off, or other machinations of an airport nature, so have a look at this webcam which is located west of the Runway 6 Hold area, showing Runway 6/24 and 36/18 off in the distance.
If you’re more interested in the operational aspect, the GateCam provides a look at what happens as jets mate with passenger-loading jetways. Then you can watch as the tractors move the giant jets back out of the gates, and then turns them loose so they can continue their journey. This camera is actually an auto-steering model located at runway 9/27 (right side view) and 18/36 (left side view).
The last webcam mostly shows traffic but it is the one clear view of the northeast taxiway where it crosses the highway. Certainly this is an unusual sight and worth a peek.
An Inside Look
Of course not everything is external. Some of the deepest, darkest secrets of the airport are hidden in the almost inaccessible high-speed baggage handling system. Have a look here at the Schiphol Airport’s automated baggage handling system, and try experiencing life as a piece of baggage!
The inside of the building is much more like a common mall. There are stores outside of the customs area so it’s a popular stop for the non-traveling public, too. It even includes a public library with access to 1,200 volumes by Dutch authors (in 29 languages), as well as E-books and music by Dutch authors, musicians, and composers. You can also visit the museum annex (free) for a look at some contemporary art. Both are currently closed until December/2016 for refurbishment.
If you like to watch aircraft landing and taking off or other airport operations, they provide a platform on the roof for interested members of the public. It’s free of charge, but you have to exit the airport and reenter in order to utilize it. If you’re just on a stopover you have to go through customs again.
With significant incidents in 1946, 1992, 1994, and 2009, all of which were attributable to pilot error, and not airport operations, this is a very safe airport indeed. If you are looking to save even more money, instead of the train, this Airport is well served by buses as well.
Just be warned that if you are heading to Amsterdam to visit Mary Jane, the town has become a little more conservative. The pressure from surrounding nations to regulate marijuana use has obliged them to require their coffee shops to choose between serving alcohol or providing marijuana, but not both. In many districts they are following their own protocols that cater to tourists.
The number of coffee shops has decreased from 1,000 to about 600, and there was talk about providing proof of local residency in order to purchase but that is infrequently enforced. It might be wise to do little online research before you go. However, you can still ride a bicycle alongside the canals!