The row between Northern Ireland’s two Belfast airports intensified this week as it emerged that George Best Belfast City Airport breached a two million passenger cap agreed last year.
The airport’s own figures show that it has already gone through the two million limit set down in last year’s Planning Agreement with the Department of the Environment, recording 2,335,501 passengers to date this year.
Belfast International Airport said the City’s planning application to extend its runway by one third pledged to adhere to the terms of the 2008 Planning Agreement, yet last month the City’s chief executive Brian Ambrose wrote to Environment Minister Edwin Poots asking for the seats for sale cap to be removed.
This limit had already been increased from the previous Planning Agreement which imposed a 1.5 million seats for sale cap, while air traffic movements per year was raised from 45,000 to 48,000.
In a submission to Stormont’s regional development committee this week, the International’s |managing director John Doran expressed concern that the seats for sale limit had already been breached, saying: “We believe it has been drawn to the attention of the Planning Service but a decision has been taken not to enforce the terms of the Planning Agreement.”
The International is calling for a public inquiry into the application and warns that Northern Ireland needs an aviation strategy that will put some shape around how regional economic considerations are balanced against environmental concerns.
Mr Doran said that in the 2008 agreement, the City had undertaken to have a noise monitoring system operational by no later than December 31 2008.
“This system only became operational in recent weeks. Yet not-withstanding this, we are led to believe the Planning Service proposes to make a decision on the application to extend the runway by the end of this year,” he said.
“We are at a loss to understand how the noise impact of the extended runway is to be assessed if the noise baseline is not known — because the noise monitoring system has only started operating.”
Mr Doran said the Planning Service’s own consultants estimated that if the runway extension is approved another 3,000 residents will be brought within the crucial 57DB leq noise contour.
“Therefore, if City Airport is |already in breach of a Planning Agreement, and has already applied to change the terms of the agreement despite pledging in its planning application to adhere to these terms, it is clear we are in grave need of an over-arching aviation strategy,” he said.
A spokesperson for the City Airport said: “Under the terms of the 2008 Planning Agreement, the Planning Service reiterated their public position that the seats for sale restriction was not an effective control mechanism and it would not be in a position to consider removal of it until it was satisfied an effective noise management system is operational, including integrated noise and track keeping equipment.
“These systems have now been operational for over six months and the airport have written to the minister seeking confirmation that this restriction is no longer applicable.”