Residents celebrate legal victory over City Airport planning agreement

Minister’s decision to remove passenger limit quashed by High Court judge

Local residents affected by aircraft noise are celebrating a landmark legal victory in their campaign for tougher noise controls at George Best Belfast City Airport.

A High Court judge has quashed a decision by the previous Environment Minister, Edwin Poots, to remove a clause in the airport’s planning agreement which effectively limited the number of passengers who could fly from the airport.

The clause, which restricted the number of seats offered for sale on planes flying from the airport, was removed by Mr Poots last December.

Court orders issued in the High Court by Mr Justice Treacy, quashing the decision, mean that the Department will have to reinstate the seats for sale limit.

The umbrella residents’ group, Belfast City Airport Watch (BCAW), had brought judicial review proceedings against the Department over the Minister’s decision.

Reacting to today’s news, the Chair of BCAW’s Steering Group, Dr Liz Fawcett said:

“This is a fantastic day for the tens of thousands of residents who are affected by noise pollution caused by planes which operate from the airport.

“We are delighted that our case has been vindicated and that the Department will now have to reinstate the seats for sale restriction.

“The restriction is an important one for residents because it limits the number of larger, noisier planes which the airport can operate.

“We are now calling on the current Environment Minister, Alex Attwood, to confirm that his Department will be enforcing this clause.”

The scale of the noise problem for residents has dramatically worsened within the last three years, and the airport’s own figures show that many more people close to Belfast City Airport are affected by a significant level of noise than is the case at major airports such as Stansted or Gatwick.

  • Consultants’ reports commissioned by the airport show that 11,422 people now suffer from a level of aircraft noise deemed by the UK government to cause “significant community annoyance” – compared to just 3,522 in 2007. (57 LAeq or over, averaged over 16 hours).
  • A mere 1,500 people suffer from noise at the same level close to Stansted airport, and just 3,600 experience this level of noise near Gatwick, according to figures from the Department for Transport.
  • The same consultants’ reports show that 23,810 people living near the City Airport suffer aircraft noise at a higher level than that recommended by the World Health Organisation – compared to 12,084 in 2007. (This is the number who experience noise at 54 LAeq or over, averaged over 16 hours – in fact, WHO recommends a level no more than 50 LAeq but that level is not measured by the consultants’ reports).
  • Further information released by the airport show that there was a 40% increase in the number of late flights at the airport last year, compared to the previous year.
  • The airport’s statistics show that there was a total of 503 late flights after 9.30pm last year – an average of 1.4 late flights per day – despite the fact that the airport’s planning agreement stipulates that late flights should only occur “in exceptional circumstances”. This compares to 359 late flights in 2009.


  1. Fiona McKinley says:

    Well done to all the people who have worked on this campaign! Could this court ruling mean that the plans which the airport has to allow bmibaby to expand the number of routes next year will be abandoned – I certainly hope so – the planes which bmibaby brought down when they moved from the International Airport recently should be sent back up there – they are far too big and loud to be allowed to take off and come in to land over such heavily populated areas as east and south Belfast.

    Congratulations on giving us ‘little people’ a little hope that we can stand up for our quality of life – and win!

  2. ANOther says:

    You folks realise that the concept of a larger plane being a noisier plane is a complete fallacy?

    Taking the Ryanair 737-800 (~160 seats) as a reference point for comparison, it is rated at R4 relative to the ICAO Chapter 3 noise standard (that is, 10 EPNdB below the standard).

    Now compare that to a number of other aircraft:
    A321 (~200 seats) – R4 rated
    A330 (~290 seats) – R4 rated for Pratt & Whitney engines, R5 (that is 15 or more EPNdB below the ICAO Chpt 3 standard) for all Rolls Royce engines
    Boeing 777 (~425 seats) – R4 for all Rolls-Royce engines, R5 for Pratt & Whitney and General Electric.

    So, in summary, if you allowed more passenger transits, you’d probably have larger, quieter planes flying less flights.

    I expect this post to be deleted as all too often these well meaning campaigns end up being run on perception, rather than on reality. Reality is then denied as it would undermine the whole campaign.

    • BCAW says:

      We don’t delete genuine comments here, though we generally distrust anonymous comments like yours.

      Also there’s more to noise than engine ratings. Runway length – or lack thereof in the case of he City airport – plays a big role in how hard those engines have to work, and thus how noisy they are. It’s too easy to hide behind manufacturer specs which fail to tell the real story of how aircraft noise affects people’s lives.

      • ANOther says:

        I didn’t post engine ratings; I posted aircraft ratings – direct from an ICAO report on aircraft noise ratings. If you note, I distinguished between different types of engine on the same aircraft.

        There is much more to noise than isolated engines.

        However, runway length does not play a role in community aircraft noise. None whatsoever.

        An aircraft has a set rotation speed (when it lifts off the runway), its fixed, either your runway is long enough to safely attain it, or it is not. You could make the argument that the aircraft would be at a higher throttle setting while on the runway to accelerate to this rotation speed, but that does not impact community noise in any significant way (in fact, the difference would be barely measurable at the airport boundary fence).

        Post rotation off the runway, the aircraft can (and for city airport, will) employ throttle cut-back procedures to reduce noise; but that is completely independent of runway length.

        You folks need to focus your energies in the right direction. For instance, instead of focussing on passenger transits, which is actually quite detached from the problem, you should be focussing on aircraft transits, the maximum allowable noise of each of those transits and the time of day of each of those transits.

        So, if you allowed the bigger runway, and simultaneously limited the number of flights, determined the aircraft that are allowed to use the airport on a noise basis and fixed the allowable noise at different times of day, everyone would win. The airport could put through more passengers, there would be less flights, and each flight would be quieter.

        I do appreciate aircraft noise is a problem, its a massive problem – but you guys really need to help yourselves by aiming in the right direction!

  3. Steven davis says:

    Lets get straight to the point uses just want somthing to complain about. People dont realise that if u extended to runway the planes will be higher at takeoff which will mean less noise. Also i dont think people realise the affect on peoples jobs that they are causing at the airport. After ryanair leaveing no other airline has been able to sell seats at the same prices as ryanair which means a drop in numbers which as a knock on affect to business and peoples jobs. All they are askin for is 500m is not like they are knocking down towns to build new terminals like heathrow t5

    • BCAW says:

      Steven, the facts about noise pollution don’t lie – read them here. This is not about people just wanting to complain – this is about a serious issue threatening the well-being of tens of thousands of people.

      Also, planes generally take off at the same height, regardless of runway length. That height is, of course, ground level. That’s where all flights start, you see.

  4. Lynda says:

    I seen this message below on Facebook and would like to reply to this person as I totally disagree with the comment but not sure how to put it with out being totally rude or giving incorrect information please can you advise?

    “And a hearty congratulations to all those opposed to the extension of the runway at Belfast City Airport. Quote: “larger airplanes are noisier” – where does this come from? What about the extra jobs, revenue and tourism this would generate – small minded, inward looking people – the airport was there long before you where – if you don’t like progress, piss off somewhere else!”

    I know the airport was built in 1937 and was the main airport from 1938-1939 and they was requisitioned by Royal Navy during the war and it wasn’t until 1983 that the airfield was opened for commercial flights as Belfast Harbour Airport. Is it true that when the Royal Navy owned it the noise was just as bad and broke windows in Sydenham? I have friends who live near the airport and when one lovely day I was sitting in their garden and a plane came over the noise was horrendous and we couldn’t hear each other speaking. Do we not have the right to sit outside and enjoy the sunshine in peace like many others? Would larger planes be less noisy? Please help me give a good solid argument. I am all for progress, development and jobs but not at the expensive of harming others…… Thank you

  5. Raymond Bell says:

    Quote from BCAW

    “Also there’s more to noise than engine ratings. Runway length – or lack thereof in the case of he City airport – plays a big role in how hard those engines have to work, and thus how noisy they are. ”

    Isnt this a contradiction by BCAW ?? since they campaigned against the runway extention and cosquently caused Ryanair to pull out. All this has meant is that other more exoensive airlines have moved in with less practical routes …… You try to get to East Midlands these days !! Thanks BCAW !!!

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