Belfast City Airport's 3,000 late flights were not logged, report finds
A government department has been slammed for failing to monitor thousands of late flights at Belfast City Airport.
The NI Public Services Ombudsman has now issued a finding of "maladministration" against the former Department of Environment for its negligence.
It followed a complaint from a residents' group called Belfast City Airport Watch that no action was being taken by the department in relation to flight arrivals and departures between 9.21pm and midnight. There were more than 3,000 late flights over a seven year period.
The probe by Ombudsman Marie Anderson is centred around an agreement between the department and the airport, allowing it to operate late flights only in "exceptional circumstances".
But the department had "no operational definition of the phrase for the purposes of monitoring compliance with the agreement", the probe found.
In response to the ombudsman's enquiries, the department stated that the 3,000-plus late flights were categorised as "exceptional".
A spokesman for Belfast City Airport said: "The airport and the Department for Infrastructure have a legally binding planning agreement with which the airport is fully compliant.
"Each month the airport publishes, on its website, statistics for delayed flights that operate between 21:30 and 23:59.
"These are also reported to the airport's community forum which includes a range of stakeholders."
The airport said delayed flights accounted for only 1.04% of all total aircraft movements over the period that the ombudsman studied - October 2008 to March 2016.
"No airport in the world operates without delays," it added.
Mrs Anderson has now called on the new Department for Infrastructure to "issue an apology within one month to Belfast City Airport Watch Limited and to make a consolatory payment of £1,000".
Professor Mari Fitzduff of the group said: "We have spent years trying to convince the authorities that they needed to take action on this issue.
"Our case was dismissed by the department but now, finally, we have been vindicated.
"We hope this will mean that long-suffering residents can finally look forward to peace and quiet in the late evening and night-time."
The ombudsman also "believed that an 'ad-hoc' approach to collecting data on late flight movements from 2008 to 2011, rather than on a regular and systematic basis, constituted maladministration".
"Based on all the available evidence, I conclude that from 2008 until November 2011 the Department did not collect data for the purpose of monitoring flight activity," she said. "This appears to have started only as a result of correspondence from the airport watch group."
A spokeswoman for the Department for Infrastructure said it "is giving careful consideration to the full detail and findings of the investigation report."