A legal challenge to the lifting of a cap on passenger numbers at George Best Belfast City Airport is to proceed to a full hearing, a High Court judge has ruled.
The rival Belfast International Airport (BIA) was granted leave to seek a judicial review of the decision to remove the annual seats for sale restrictions.
A residents' group, Belfast City Airport Watch Ltd, has also issued similar proceedings against the move announced by Environment Minister Edwin Poots last December.
Both opponents want an order quashing the decision which lifts the limit of two million seats a year.
The cap on 48,000 annual flights at Belfast City is to remain in place.
Lawyers for BIA claim the minister's decision is unlawful and point out that it has to abide by its own planning restrictions. They also contend that he failed to take into consideration environmental information.
A further ground of challenge centred on claims that the seats restriction was removed without checking whether there was an effective noise control system in place at the City Airport.
Michael Humphries QC, for BIA, argued that a strong correlation exists between the size of aircraft and noise emitted.
Mr Humphries told the court: “The point is the removal of the seats for sale restriction gives an unrestricted opportunity for slots occupied by very small aircraft to be used by very large aircraft.”
David McMillen, for the department, insisted that the minister did consider the environmental impact.
He added that a statutory process involving consultation was carried out.
“But in fact the minister went further than that — he consulted with the other interested parties,” Mr McMillen said.
“He has gone way over and above what the statute requires.”
Mr Justice Treacy granted leave to seek a judicial review on all points on the basis that any arguable case had been advanced.
A full hearing of the challenges brought by BIA and Belfast City Airport Watch Ltd has been penciled in for three days in June.