Department sits back as late flights soar at City Airport

Campaigners lambast Environment Minister for failing to take action

As Flybe announces it’s taking over three Ryanair routes at George Best Belfast City Airport, local residents say they’re furious at the revelation that late flights at the airport have increased, and that the Department of the Environment is refusing to take any action.

In a letter to residents’ group, 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 – a pro rata increase of 32% on the 359 late flights last year.

“Late flights disturb the sleep of thousands of adults and children,” said Dr Liz Fawcett, Chair of BCAW’s Steering Group.

“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.”

The letter from the Planning Service also states that the Department has no intention of acting on the fact that the airport is withholding its seats for sale data – meaning the Department cannot monitor whether or not the airport is busting the seats for sale (or passenger) limit which also forms a crucial part of the airport’s planning agreement.

The Environment Minister. Edwin Poots, recently said he was minded to remove the seats for sale limit and is expected to make a decision very soon.

BCAW is opposed to the removal of the limit because it would allow a bigger proportion of the planes flying to and from the airport to be large aircraft – and would therefore exacerbate the noise problem faced by residents.

Dr Fawcett says the group has raised the issue of the Department’s failure to enforce the airport’s planning agreement with the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Environment Committee – which is set to quiz departmental officials about the airport this Thursday [September 9th].

“The Environment Minister cannot walk away from his legal responsibilities in this manner, leaving residents to suffer the consequences,” said Dr Fawcett.

“We hope the Environment Committee will hold the Minister to account over this matter.”

BCAW has calculated that nearly 38,000 residents are affected by aircraft noise relating to the City Airport within the Belfast City Council area alone.

Last year, BCAW carried out a survey of more than 400 individuals in areas in east and south Belfast, and in north Down, affected by aircraft noise from the City Airport.

The shock findings from this survey demonstrated the extent to which aircraft noise is already a very real problem for many residents:

  • More than three-quarters (78%) of the 412 individuals surveyed said that aircraft noise affected their sleep
  • Three-quarters (75%) of respondents said they often had to stop talking when a plane flew over because they couldn’t be heard
  • Of the 157 respondents with children, nearly half (46%) said their children weren’t getting enough sleep because of aircraft noise.
  • More than a third (34%) of those with children said their children found aircraft noise frightening.