More than 8,000 people living near George Best Belfast City Airport suffer from a level of aircraft noise deemed by the UK Government to cause "significant community annoyance", a new report has revealed.
A draft noise action plan published by the airport shows that 8,616 people live within a zone surrounding the east Belfast airport which gets an average of 57 decibels of aircraft noise. The average reading was taken over a 16-hour period on a summer's day.
The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology has warned that this level of aircraft noise has the potential for the onset of significant community annoyance – although some people are affected at lower levels.
In its plan, the airport has promised it will operate a noise compensation scheme for local residents affected by loud noise – but this will only apply to residents or "noise sensitive premises" that fall within a zone found to have a higher noise level – 63 decibels.
The plan also revealed that more than 80% of complaints about aircraft noise come from people in the Kinnegar, Holywood, Cultra, Ormeau, Annadale, Stranmillis, Malone, Sydenham and Ballymacarrett areas.
In the plan, which has been issued for consultation, the airport says it manages air noise through a number of measures. This includes restricting scheduled flights to between 6.30am and 9.30pm, allowing no more than 48,000 air traffic movements in any 12-month period, prohibiting the use of aircraft that are only marginally compliant with noise standards, installing a noise and track monitoring system and introducing procedures to reduce ground noise.
It lists a series of actions it will take during the period of the plan (2013-18), including seeking to maximise flights over Belfast Lough and offering a noise compensation scheme.
The consultation comes after the airport called on Environment Minister Alex Attwood to remove the seats-for-sale limit that prevents operators using the airport to offer more than two million seats for sale in any 12-month period. The airport wants to scrap the limit and replace it with a new noise management system and noise control cap.
Last night residents said they were concerned that the airport was being allowed to self-regulate its noise management.
Dr Liz Fawcett (below), chair of the Belfast City Airport Watch Steering Group, said: "Allowing airports to self-regulate their own noise management in this way is akin to permitting factories or farms to regulate their own pollution. There's a clear and unacceptable conflict of interest."
A spokesman for George Best Belfast City Airport said: "The airport acts in accordance with all noise legislation and will submit its draft noise action plan to the DoE."
George Best Belfast City Airport has been embroiled in a long-running dispute with east Belfast residents over noise level complaints. The airport has lodged proposals to scrap a 'seats-for-sale' limit which prevents it from offering more than two million seats in a 12-month period. As part of a noise control programme, it is offering a noise compensation scheme.