The future of one of Northern Ireland's airports could be in jeopardy if a cap on passenger numbers is not lifted, a director has warned.
George Best Belfast City Airport (GBBCA) can only sell two million seats from its hub each year as a result of a planning restriction which relates to wasteland within its grounds.
Airport officials are seeking to modify the current planning agreement with the Department of Environment (DoE) to remove the “seats for sale” limit and put in its place noise control measures — a first in Northern Ireland.
Commercial and marketing director Katy Best said its abolition would create up to 350 jobs and boost the economy by £22.4m.
“If the seats for sale limit was removed 350 jobs could be created onsite at the airport and indirectly in the tourism industry delivering £22.4m of economic growth for the region.”
The airport — which last year exceeded the two million “seats for sale” cap — has been asking for its removal for the last nine years.
Mrs Best said the restriction is not being policed at present because of the ongoing probe, adding that the environment minister is expected to make a decision on the issue within months.
”If the seats for sale was enforced we would be looking at actually having to downsize our business and that would mean significant job losses.
She added: “We want to assure the local community that any future development at the airport can be maintained within the planning agreement cap of 48,000 flights.”
But residents campaign group Belfast City Airport Watch has claimed that the control measures would not be enough to protect schoolchildren in Belfast and Holywood, Co Down.
A DoE spokeswoman said the public consultation on the proposals to modify the existing planning agreement ended on June 8.
“The next stage will be a public examination or inquiry to consider the representations received on the proposal,” she added.
“The department will consider the independent report of the examination/inquiry before making a recommendation to the environment minister on if and how the agreement should be modified.”
Airline Aer Lingus has confirmed that it is in talks with both GBBCA and Belfast International. A spokesman said: “We are engaged in a confidential tender process with both airports which has not concluded yet.”
It follows the City's loss of BMI Baby.
The airport is expected to confirm details of new airlines soon. Aer Lingus flies to Heathrow and seven European destinations, but could expand routes to regional UK airports from the City, filling some of the lost BMI Baby routes and competing with Flybe.