Too much airport noise but only silence from our MLAs
The Executive has legal powers to resolve the noise issue at Belfast City Airport. It should use them, argues Liz Fawcett
Yesterday, George Best Belfast City Airport asserted that the airport nearly closed and 1,500 jobs were at risk when Ryanair pulled out a year ago.
The airport also highlighted the delay in obtaining planning permission for the proposed runway extension and claimed that hardly any local residents appeared to be bothered about the noise.
Well, here are some facts:
â€¢ In 2010 - the last year in which Ryanair operated from the City Airport - more than 11,000 people living near the airport suffered aircraft noise at a level deemed serious by the UK Government, compared to just 1,400 at Stansted and 2,850 at Gatwick;
â€¢ Figures provided by the City Airport show it directly employed just 90 people in 2011 - it has no proof that it is responsible for 1,500 jobs.
â€¢ The runway extension public inquiry is currently delayed because, last May, the airport said it wanted to provide additional information before the inquiry went ahead;
â€¢ The City Airport's published accounts show that before-tax profits fell while Ryanair operated from the airport and
â€¢ Other airlines moved in swiftly to take over most of Ryanair's routes shortly after the airline pulled out.
Belfast City Airport Watch is an umbrella group of 20 residents' associations and community groups representing people affected by noise from the City Airport. Many of us use the City Airport and have no wish to see it disappear.
However, the City Airport is unusual in being sited so close to a huge, built-up urban residential area - indeed, it's one of just three airports to have a special European Union designation as a 'city airport' for this very reason.
The situation is also unusual in that Belfast and much of Northern Ireland is already served by an international airport with plenty of spare capacity.
That's why Belfast City Airport Watch doesn't believe that robust noise regulation at the City Airport is going to harm Northern Ireland's economy - and why it is convinced that local residents deserve better protection from aircraft noise.
At present, many residents suffer from disrupted sleep caused by early morning and late evening flights.
In the summer months, many residents are unable to fully enjoy their gardens, or nearby green spaces, due to aircraft noise.
The City Airport's current planning agreement is meant to provide protection against aircraft noise - but it's never been properly enforced.
A few months ago, the Environment Minister, Alex Attwood, announced that he was going to hold an inquiry into amending the agreement. However, no details have been announced.
At present, residents are facing the prospect of a number of new international routes, to be operated by bmibaby, which are due to commence later this year.
We in Belfast City Airport Watch are concerned that the noise problem is going to get worse again.
The planes are likely to require more fuel to travel further - this means they're likely to be heavier and noisier. Bmibaby has also said the aircraft will be using greater thrust to take off.
The Executive has the legal powers to solve the noise issue - for the benefit of residents and without harming the local economy.
There is a place for the City Airport - it's as a niche, business-oriented domestic airport, not a fully-fledged international airport trying to go head-to-head with Belfast International.
We don't blame the City Airport for trying to expand its activities.
But we would like to see Executive ministers take full responsibility for the noise problem and make the necessary moves to provide local residents with the quality of life they deserve.