Residents’ fury at Minister’s nod on lifting airport passengers’ cap

Local residents say they’re furious that the Environment Minister, Edwin Poots, has said he’s likely to lift the official limit on passenger numbers at George Best Belfast City Airport.

Belfast City Airport Watch (BCAW), which represents residents in east and south Belfast, and in north Down, says that any such move would have grave implications for the tens of thousands of local people affected by aircraft noise.

“We’re horrified at the potential implication of allowing the airport to handle as many passengers as it wishes,” said BCAW’s Steering Group Chair, Dr Liz Fawcett.

“This decision will almost certainly lead to a significant expansion by stealth of the airport and the noise problem suffered by residents.

“Until now, the passenger restriction meant a mixture of small and large aircraft used the airport.

“If this move goes ahead, 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.

“We’re especially concerned that the Minister isn’t holding a full public consultation on this matter – by taking this decision ‘by the back door’, he’s letting down the ordinary people whose interests he should have been putting first.”

The official limit on passenger numbers is contained in the airport’s Planning Agreement with the Planning Service which is supposed to regulate the airport’s activities and protect residents.

That annual cap, which was set at two million seats offered for sale on scheduled flights from the airport, imposes a de facto restriction on the number of larger aircraft which could fly from the airport.

“The annual ‘seats for sale’ limit is crucial in ensuring that many of the aircraft using the airport are small and medium-size planes,” explained Dr Fawcett.

“While there’s still an official annual limit of 48,000 on the number of flights from the airport, if the passenger cap is removed, there will be nothing to prevent all 48,000 of those planes being of the larger and noisier type currently using the airport.

“The removal of this important safeguard would simply permit many more of the existing large planes to wreak further misery on residents.”

The residents’ group says it’s very surprised that the Minister, in announcing this move, expressed satisfaction with the airport’s system for noise monitoring.

Just three months ago, it emerged that the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the UK’s official aviation regulator, had submitted a damning report about the airport to the Planning Service.

The detailed document raised major concerns about the way the airport measures noise levels.

Under the airport’s Planning Agreement, the airport is itself responsible for monitoring the levels of noise from aircraft taking off and landing at the airport.

The CAA’s report concluded that the methodology used by the airport to calculate the likely additional noise impact resulting from a runway extension was misleading and had seriously underestimated the potential scale of the problem.

“We cannot understand how the Minster can pronounce himself satisfied with the airport’s noise monitoring arrangements when such a reputable body as the CAA raises such serious concerns about the airport’s own noise statistics.” said Dr Fawcett.

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.

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