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DoE refuse to act as late flights increase ‘by third’

The lobby group fighting the runway extension at George Best Belfast City Airport (GBBCA) says it is furious at a revelation that late flights at the airport have increased by what it claims is a third, and that the Department of the Environment is refusing to take action.

In a letter to Belfast City Airport Watch (BCAW), the Department’s Planning Service states that 278 flights took place after the airport’s 9.30pm curfew in the first seven months of this year. The letter, in response to questions under Freedom of Information legislation, confirms that the Planning Service “has not initiated any legal action” in relation to this matter.

The letter has infuriated lobby group BCAW. Liz Fawcett, chair of its steering group said the 278 late flights represented a pro rata increase of 32% on the figures for last year.

“Late flights disturb the sleep of thousands of adults and children,” she said. “Under the planning agreement between the airport and the Department of the Environment, late flights are only supposed to happen in ‘exceptional circumstances’.

“The Department has a legal responsibility to enforce that agreement — and yet it’s telling us in this letter that it’s simply sitting back and letting the airport break the agreement. It’s a complete abdication of the Department’s responsibilities.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Environment told the Community Telegraph: “The 2008 Planning Agreement makes provision for delayed scheduled flights during extended hours. That is, 9:31pm to 11:59pm.

“The number of flights during these hours currently represents in the region of 1% of the total number of flights.

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“The Department does not consider that any action is necessary.”

The letter from the Planning Service to BCAW also states that the Department has “no plans to take legal or other action against GBBCA in relation to its decision to withhold data on the number of seats being offered for sale,” adding that the consultation period announced by Environment Minister Edwin Poots on removing the cap on seats for sale ended on September 3.

The Assembly’s Environment Committee is discussing this and other issues at a public meeting this morning (September 9). BCAW is opposed to the removal of the limit because it fears it would open the door to larger, noisier planes.

Dr Fawcett says the group will be raising its complaints with the Assembly’s Environment Committee.

A spokesperson for the airport said there were no flights after the 11.59pm curfew and that 99% of flights had finished by 9.30pm.

He said late flights had fallen from 748 in 2007 to 359 last year and that while this year was likely to show “a slight rise” this must be put in the context of the disruption suffered through snow, ice, fog and volcanic ash disruption.

Meanwhile, East Belfast MLA Dawn Purvis has called on the airport to withdraw its planning application for an extension to its runway.

“Now Ryanair has gone, the airport should do the decent thing and withdraw the planning application. Such a move by the airport would be an indication of their willingness to rebuild relations with those residents most directly affected by noise,” she said.

“I hope this whole mess will result in an airport aviation strategy, one that considers the needs of Northern Ireland as a whole and comes up with a sensible plan on how all our airports should operate.”

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