SOME North Down residents claim they have become early birds against their will as aircraft from George Best City Airport have been taking off earlier, seven days a week.
Over 8,000 people in North Down, south and east Belfast suffer from levels of aircraft noise that are considered to cause "significant community annoyance" according to a new report by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology.
Now the airport has published a draft action plan which includes a proposal to begin operating a noise compensation scheme for local residents affected by loud noise – but only those affected by noise levels of 63 decibels or more.
The report shows that 8,616 people live within a zone surounding the airport which gets an average of 57 decibels of aircraft noise.
Residents say aircraft noise has become worse since Aer Lingus launched three international routes from the City Airport at the end of March. Its timetable includes a 6.30am take off to Faro, seven days a week and on weekdays, this flight is followed by five British Airways regional departures beginning at 6.35am , but all before 7am. On Sundays, after the 6.30am flight before there's a British Airways departure at 6.40am.
Aer Lingus has also launched a service which will run six times a week to Malaga, and a twice weekly service to Palma.
John Driscoll, who used to work in the aerospace industry, moved into his house in Kinnegar a decade ago. "I bought this house knowing the airport was there," he said, "but there are people up and down the neighbour hood who have to stop talking when one of these planes flies overhead.
"The jets have been getting bigger over the last ten years. They may be award wining for their quietness – compared to other planes of the same size, but they're still noisier than six or seven years ago. They make a double bang sound when they go over and then rumble. In the mornings they line up first thing and it wakes us up.
He asked: "Where does it end? Surely they should stick the big jets at the International Airport and keep the regional flights at the GBCA."
Dr Liz Fawcett, Chair of the Belfast City Airport Watch residents' group, said: "Many people are telling us that they're having their sleep disrupted by early morning flights and that the noise seems to have got worse since the new international routes started up. We don't believe that an airport situated in a densely populated urban area is the right location for international flights. We'd like to see a better balance between the commercial interests of the airport, on the one hand, and the health and quality of life of local residents, on the other."
A spokesperson from George Best City Airport said its Planning Agreement permits flights to commence from 6.30am, seven days a week and that the Aer Lingus summer flights to European destinations were "well within strict Government regulations concerning noise."
"The aircraft used are no bigger than those which have previously operated from the airport and cause no discernible noise increase for those on the ground."
They added that the majority of flights would continue to arrive and depart over the Lough and said they enjoyed close relations with the community: "The airport has invested heavily in the installation of noise and tracking monitoring systems which monitor the noise levels from all aircraft movements and the tracks flown."