City Airport's Seat Limit 'May Stay'

The boss of George Best Belfast City Airport has been trying to reassure local residents that any future change in the airport's controversial 'Seats for Sale' limit wouldn't mean more aircraft being used.

No more than two million seats can be sold from the airport in a year, but NI Environment Minister Edwin Poots has proposed plans to remove the current cap.

Chief Executive Brian Ambrose insisted the airport had fulfilled the requirements as set down by the Department of Environment with the installation of a noise and tracking monitoring system and said that he still expected the removal of the Seats for Sale limit.

However, local residents said they're delighted that the Minister's own Committee is now backing their proposal for it to be considered either after or as part of the forthcoming public inquiry on the airport's controversial runway extension plan.

BCAW spokesperson, Dr Liz Fawcett, said she was delighted with the announcement, but also noted that she hoped the Minister would heed the Committee's recommendation.

"We're absolutely delighted that the Committee has considered all the arguments with care, and is telling the Minister that he must put the needs and interests of ordinary people first," she said.

Despite the airport boss's insistence that "the removal of the Seats for Sale limit will not mean more or larger aircraft as this is governed in the planning agreement which limits the number of flights to and from the airport to 48,000 in any 12 month period", she said "there would be nothing to stop every plane being one of the larger and noisier types which currently fly from the airport – that would be an absolute nightmare for residents."

However, Brian Ambrose said yesterday: "Our Seats for Sale restriction limits to two million the number of seats that can be sold on flights from the airport.

"This restriction is based on the physical capacity of the old terminal building," he explained.

He said that, as the old building has long been demolished and operations are now from a new modern terminal, the Department "recognise it has no relevance to the current operation".

But the Minister's own Environment Committee has now recommended that his decision over removing the cap on passenger numbers be deferred.

They made the recommendation following meetings with residents and airport officials at Stormont on Tuesday with Committee Chair, Cathal Boylan, saying more public consultation was needed.

He said they would recommend the Minister take the decision in tandem with a separate public inquiry into a runway extension at the facility.

The public inquiry into the proposed runway extension at George Best Belfast City Airport was delayed in August amid a dispute over a noise pollution report submitted by the airport.

The airport wants to extend the northeast end of the runway by 590m while retracting 120m from the southwest.

But, after yesterday's meeting with both the umbrella residents' group, Belfast City Airport Watch (BCAW), and the airport's Chief Executive Brian Ambrose, a halt may now be called to removing the crucial noise regulation governing the busy airport.

Last June, the Environment Minister, Edwin Poots, proposed the removal of a key clause in the airport's Planning Agreement with the Department of the Environment which limits the number of seats offered for sale on outgoing flights from the airport to two million in any 12-month period.

The Department recently admitted to the Environment Committee that the airport has, in fact, broken the restriction and that the Department was taking no moves to enforce it. The Department also admitted that it is not enforcing a further condition in the Planning Agreement designed to restrict late flights.

"But, the Planning Agreement is the only protection residents currently have against excessive aircraft noise," observed Dr Fawcett.

"The fact that it's being neither implemented nor enforced properly is a key reason why so many people are suffering from the effects of aircraft noise.

"If the Minister started enforcing these regulations properly rather than trying to get rid of them, he could make a significant difference to the health and quality of life of tens of thousands of local residents."


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