Residents fear the removal of the seats for sale limit at the George Best Belfast City Airport will mean “larger, noisier aircraft” in the skies over east Belfast.
Their concerns were aired after Environment Minister Edwin Poots lifted the seats for sale limit this week. It restricted the number of passengers coming into the airport each year.
Mr Poots said the limit had been imposed when the airport building was able to cater for far fewer passengers than it now can.
Dr Liz Fawcett, of Belfast City Airport Watch said: “The Minister is flying in the face of a recommendation by the Assembly’s Environment Committee which said, just weeks ago, that the airport’s passenger limit should remain in place for now. Belfast City Council has also voiced concerns.
“There will now be nothing to stop all 48,000 of the permitted annual flights in and out of the airport from using the larger, noisier type of planes which have been operating there and that will greatly increase the misery of people living under the flight path,” she added.
Independent MLA Dawn Purvis said: “This DUP Minister is again prioritising business interests over the ordinary resident. The seats for sale limit was a fundamental part of the airport's planning agreement, an agreement put in place to protect local communities.”
Alliance MLA Chris Lyttle added that the Environment Minister should have listened to the Stormont Environment Committee's call to defer the decision, saying this issue should only be considered as part of the public inquiry into the runway extension.
“The issue of the cap should have only been considered as part of or after the public inquiry. I am deeply disappointed that the Minister has taken this decision independently and ahead of the inquiry.”
UUP MLA Sir Reg Empey said: “It is clear that Edwin has went on a solo run with a decision that will have a detrimental effect on the health and well being of the residents who live near the airport.
“The Minister clearly values commercial interests over the health and well being of the people who live under the flightpath,” he alleged.
Sinn Fein representative Niall O Donnghaile said: “I would call upon the Minister to take on board the concerns of residents and the wishes of the Assembly’s Environment Committee and reverse today’s decision.”
Brian Ambrose, chief executive of George Best City Airport, added: “We welcome the Minister’s decision to remove the seats for sale restriction, which allows us to forward plan with certainty, helping to safeguard the current |workforce.”
The planning agreement caps flights at 48,000 in any 12-month period, provides a balance between protecting the interests of residents while ensuring the airport can develop within these boundaries and continue to contribute significantly to the local economy.
Last year the airport carried 2.6 million passengers on 39,328 flights, the planning agreement also restricts the airport's opening hours to between 6.30am and 9.30pm daily, and ensures the majority of flights arrive and depart via Belfast lough.