Ryanair sparked anger today after it advertised flights arriving in George Best Belfast City Airport more than two hours after the 9.30pm curfew.
Employment Minister Sir Reg Empey joined residents of east Belfast in blasting the budget airline for apparently ignoring the deadline for flights in and out of the airport by putting up seats for sale on a number of late-night flights.
Ryanair said today it was a clerical error which had been rectified.
The company had been taking bookings yesterday morning for one flight leaving for Glasgow Prestwick at 9.50pm on May 13 next year, while another flight left Prestwick at 11pm on May 15, touching down in Belfast at 11.55.
The airline said the schedule has yet to be agreed and promised the eventual flight time would come within the curfew restrictions agreed between the airport and the Department of the Environment.
By last night, the flight had been removed from the website after the company was contacted by the Belfast Telegraph but another, leaving Belfast for Liverpool at 9.40pm on May 25, was still listed this morning.
It came days after airline boss Michael O’Leary predicted that a runway extension will be in place by mid 2010 at the latest, even though a planning application has yet to be lodged.
Campaigners keen to limit the airport’s expansion said the incident should be a wake-up call for Environment Minister Sammy Wilson, coming as it did within days of his announcement of a new Planning Agreement which will allow passenger numbers to rise by half a million a year.
At the time, the DOE said operating hours would remain limited between 6.30am and 9.30pm and the airport announced the establishment of a system that will penalise late flights, directing the fines into a community fund that will be distributed to projects in east Belfast and North Down.
A spokesman for Ryanair said the airline applies for time slots scheduling thousands of flights across hundreds of routes and the schedule has yet to be agreed.
“This was a clerical error which has been rectified. Ryanair is acutely aware of the strict operating hours which apply to the City Airport. Ryanair has no plans to seek an extension to this curfew and has no intention of flouting the Planning Agreement at Belfast City Airport,” he said.
The spokesman said anyone who has booked one of the late flights advertised on the website will have their flight moved to an earlier time.
East Belfast MLA Sir Reg Empey, the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, said the Ryanair night flight times were offensive to residents living near the airport’s flightpath.
“If these flights are indeed being offered, this would be a deliberate disregard for those residents who are living nearby and have to put up with the constant noise and traffic of the airport,” he said.
“As I understand it, Ryanair are now taking bookings for May of next year offering passengers the option of flying out to Glasgow at 21.50 and returning into the city at 23.55,” he said.
“When I was made aware of these bookings I wrote to Brian Ambrose at Belfast City Airport to raise my concerns. If they are indeed going to offer these flights it is deplorable and offensive to the residents who live nearby. Residents and passengers need reasssurance from Ryanair as to how they are going to deal with the situation.
“Just this week I was exasperated to hear that the DoE is permitting further expansion at Belfast City Airport — this is all despite a continuous campaign to contain the growth of the airport lasting many years by the local community.”
Campaigners Belfast City AirportWatch said it should be a wake-up call for Sammy Wilson.
“Here we have a major airline posting up flights in its website in clear contravention of the Minister’s new Planning Agreement,” a spokesperson said.
“Already, the curfew is broken, on average, twice a night. The Minister needs to take a much tougher stance towards the airlines which use the City Airport.”
An airport spokesperson said: “Ryanair has confirmed to the airport that this was an administrative error which involved flights advertised for 2009 — this matter has been resolved with immediate effect.”
The DOE said it had sought assurances from the airport after it was alerted to advertising by an airline of scheduled flights outside the operating hours set in the modified Planning Agreement.
“The airport has assured the Planning Service this was a clerical error on the airline's part. The Restrictions and Obligations in the modified Planning Agreement in relation to operating hours remain unchanged,” a spokesman said.
“Should an airline schedule flights outside the operating hours in the modified Planning Agreement, that would be a breach of the modified agreement and appropriate action would be taken.”