Airport noise 'hits reading levels'
Children's reading abilities could be reduced by any increase in noise levels at George Best Belfast City Airport, an expert said.
Professor Eberhard Greiser said international studies showed falling abilities among young people at schools close to airports.
He also highlighted health effects like high blood pressure during a public inquiry by the Planning Appeals Commission (PAC) into lifting a seats for sale limit to allow for expansion.
Professor Greiser said: "If you have schools exposed to aircraft noise during the day you would expect if you are doing the studies...you would expect similar decreasing comprehension."
He produced a report for residents opposed to expansion at the East Belfast site.
Campaigners living near the flight path over greater Belfast object to any changes to the current planning agreement, fearing "intolerable" noise levels from an increased number of flights. But airport bosses insist relaxing the limit would boost the economy, create jobs and attract new airlines.
Prof Greiser is emeritus professor at Bremen University. His research has been challenged by the airport, which commissioned its own specialist study, and Belfast City Council. But he said they had not provided better conclusions.
An expert for Belfast City Airport said there had been testimonials from schools in support.
The airport is restricted to selling two million departing seats a year. The battle for the cap's removal has been ongoing for over a decade and has resulted in a number of legal challenges.
Liz Fawcett, chairwoman of the Belfast City Airport Watch steering group opposed to the change, said up to 18,000 residents across south and east Belfast as well as North Down could be adversely affected if the planning agreement was altered.
The number of flights in and out of the City Airport is capped at 48,000 a year with operating hours between 6.30am and 9.30pm and penalties for late flights.
Removing the restriction would not mean an increase in the number or size of aircraft and new measures have been put in place to monitor and tackle noise pollution, proponents of change have claimed.
Another participant told the inquiry Professor Greiser was drawing his claim about the impact on children's reading from different countries with different circumstances, including airports with three times as much traffic.
"They are not pertinent to this project."
Mari Fitzduff chairs the Holywood Action Group and lives in the Kinnegar area.
She said air traffic was affecting her sleep and blood pressure and added the unpredictability of flights was wearing.
"People learn to dread it," she said, adding: "You cannot sit outside because conversations are so disjointed."
She said planes passed very close to her home on the edge of Belfast Lough.
"You could almost talk to the pilot you felt, it really did feel as if your chimneys were going to be knocked over."
She said she was passionately committed to the economic development of Northern Ireland but the idea that it might be dependent on a few holiday planes coming into Belfast City Airport was appalling. The frequent traveller claimed expansion of Aldergrove made more sense.
"If you are telling me the profits are not big enough at Belfast City Airport then look to the future, I don't think you are going to be able to expand.
"If there is only going to be one airport we know which one is going to win, it is not going to be George Best Belfast City Airport."
The public inquiry, ordered by former environment minister Alex Attwood in 2011, is being held in Belfast city centre.
It has been hearing evidence from a wide range of parties including the airport officials, residents' representatives and aircraft noise experts.