Noise from Belfast City Airport hits school reading levels, says expert
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 flightpath 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 more than a decade and has resulted in a number of legal challenges. Liz Fawcett, chairwoman of the Belfast City Airport Watch 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.
The public inquiry, ordered by former Environment Minister Alex Attwood in 2011, is being held in Belfast city centre.