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Belfast City Airport breached seats for sale clause, claims pressure group

By Linda McKee

Residents of east Belfast have claimed George Best Belfast City Airport sold 80,000 more seats than allowed under planning agreements last year.

Pressure group Belfast City Airport Watch has claimed the airport had broken the ‘seats for sale’ clause in its Planning Agreement with the Department of the Environment but had not faced any enforcement measures.

The group said it was bitterly disappointed and called on Environment Minister Sammy Wilson to tell his officials to enforce the agreement properly.

However, a spokesman for the airport denied the claim. It said the DOE was aware of a “process of adjustment” by the airport to reschedule and limit some services so that it could abide by the new agreement.

Belfast City Airport Watch claimed airport chief executive Brian Ambrose had told a meeting last week of the airport’s consultative forum that 80,000 more seats were sold in 2008 than permitted under the Planning Agreement. The group claimed the DoE had been informed but did not take enforcement measures.

A spokeswoman for the group has claimed that the airport is disregarding the new agreement, which raised the seats for sale limit from 1.5m to 2m and was signed five months ago.

Belfast City Airport Watch spokeswoman Fiona McKinley said: “These revelations just confirm that the new Planning Agreement isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.

“We’re bitterly disappointed that the Department of the Environment is failing to take any action against the airport for breaching the agreement. Sammy Wilson, the environment minister, must tell his officials to enforce the agreement properly.”

An airport spokesman said: “The airport community forum meets regularly to discuss the airport’s operations in a transparent and open manner.

“At the last forum meeting the airport’s chief executive, Brian Ambrose, did not admit to the airport breaching the seats for sale clause as suggested, but rather presented figures regarding the latest position.

“The current planning agreement which was approved last November took four-and-a-half years to agree. During this period the airport underwent an extensive examination in public to scrutinise all of its operations in the public arena. The resulting planning agreement raised seats for sale to 2m over any 12-month period.

“There then began a process of adjustment by the airport to reschedule and limit some services in order to abide with the new agreement. The DoE was aware of this period of rescheduling.

“Belfast City is the only airport in Europe to have such a cap on seats for sale.

A spokeswoman for the DoE said: “Following the first monitoring round after the modified Planning Agreement, the department is aware of the position and will continue to monitor the situation.”

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