Residents opposed to a runway extension at George Best City Airport have criticised proposed planning changes which they believe could make it easier to pass the controversial development.
Draft planning policy guidance would mean the economic implications of a proposed development may be the determining factor in approving a planning application, lobby group Belfast City Airport Watch (BCAW) said.
Increasing the number of passengers and visitors to Northern Ireland is among the perceived attractions of the runway extension to the business community.
Liz Fawcett, spokeswoman for BCAW, said: "This draft planning guidance, if it comes into force, would completely shift the goal posts with regard to the runway extension and many other controversial development proposals with potential negative environmental impacts.
"It's quite wrong for the Department of the Environment, which is meant to protect our environment, to be proposing that environmental concerns should be brushed aside in this way."
Belfast City Airport Watch opposes City Airport's runway extension proposal because it believes it would permit larger, heavier and noisier planes to fly from the airport.
Airlines using the airport argue that it would make routes from there more profitable and allow a greater selection of destinations to be served.
Draft Planning Policy Statement 24: Economic Considerations is out for consultation.
Ms Fawcett said: "This is nothing more than a charter for developers. Planning applications are already difficult enough for ordinary people to challenge - this policy guidance, with its emphasis on claimed economic benefits, would make the cost of mounting a challenge prohibitive in many instances."
George Best Belfast City Airport made no comment.