A planning restriction limiting the number of departure seats sold by George Best Belfast City Airport has been lifted.
The decision was taken by former infrastructure minister Chris Hazzard in 2017 following a public inquiry into the issue in 2015.
In the absence of local ministers and devolved government, the decision was enacted on Wednesday by the Department for Infrastructure.
The department has signed a new Modified Planning Agreement with the airport which will control operations with immediate effect.
This agreement endorses the recommendations of the Planning Appeals Commission independent report of the public inquiry.
It removes the two million cap on the number of seats for sale on departing flights and also establishes a new noise management system at the airport.
While the passenger number cap has been removed, the airport retains an annual limit of 48,000 on air traffic movements.
The airport is acutely aware of the environment in which it works and will continue to be transparent with regard to all its operations with all its stakeholdersBelfast City Airport
Last year the airport saw just over 36,000 air traffic movements.
The new noise control measures include a departure noise limit on all flights with levies payable to the Community Fund when this is exceeded.
Additionally, a penalty system for late flights has been introduced into the agreement with fines increased compared with the previous voluntary Flybe disruption scheme operated by the airport.
It also includes the establishment of a Noise Insulation Scheme offering funding for sound insulation to residential and noise sensitive properties experiencing an average equivalent daily daytime noise level of 63dB.
A spokesman for Belfast City Airport welcomed the removal of the cap.
“The airport is acutely aware of the environment in which it works and will continue to be transparent with regard to all its operations with all its stakeholders,” he said.
Local residents’ umbrella group Belfast City Airport Watch extended a cautious welcome for the new modified planning agreement.
It said: “On a first reading, the document would appear to meet key recommendations made by the Planning Appeals Commission at the conclusion of the public inquiry on this matter.
“However, the new agreement contains considerable technical detail and we want to study this in more detail before giving a more considered response.
“Moreover, since the commission published its report, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has issued new guidance on aviation noise and we’d already urged the Department for Infrastructure to take that WHO guidance on board in this new agreement.
“The department doesn’t appear to have done that and we’ll certainly continue pressing the department to implement the WHO guidance which was drawn up on the basis of an extensive body of evidence.”