Residents give cautious welcome to Ryanair move

Campaigners say move highlights need for NI aviation strategy

Local residents have given a cautious welcome to Ryanair’s decision to pull out of George Best Belfast City Airport, at least temporarily.

But the residents’ umbrella group, Belfast City Airport Watch (BCAW), is questioning the real motives for the move and says it highlights the need for a proper local aviation strategy.

“Ryanair thought it could come in and dictate airport policy in Northern Ireland, and we’re really glad they’ve discovered they can’t,” said Dr Liz Fawcett, Chair of the BCAW Steering Group.

“But – while we welcome the move – the City Airport will now be busy enticing airlines such as easyJet to bring more routes to the airport, so any respite from noise for residents is likely to be short-lived.”

However, the group says Ryanair’s true reasons for making this move should be scrutinised.

“At a time of recession which has hit Northern Ireland particularly badly, low-cost airlines obviously face a real challenge in attracting sufficient passengers to make their routes profitable,” said Dr Fawcett.

“We suspect that the recession is at least as significant a factor in this decision as the proposed runway extension.

“Moreover, it was open to Ryanair to move its operations to Belfast International Airport – which has plenty of spare capacity – at any time.”

BCAW has already called on the Northern Ireland Executive to develop a proper strategy for the region’s airports.

“Quite apart from the fact that tens of thousands of residents will suffer if the runway extension goes ahead, any further expansion would be at the expense of Belfast International Airport,” said Dr Fawcett.

“We believe our politicians must make it a priority to sit down and produce a proper strategy for the development of airports in Northern Ireland – one which ensures City doesn’t just duplicate what International already provides, and one which takes into account the health and well-being of local residents.”

BCAW opposes the runway extension proposal because an extended runway would enable planes to carry larger loads of passengers and fuel, leading to heavier aircraft and greater levels of noise. The proposal would also enable the airport to greatly expand its operations.

Both these points were supported by a report by the Civil Aviation Authority which was commissioned by the Planning Service.

That report – which came to light last March – stated that, in terms of the proposed runway length alone, it would be possible to operate larger aircraft from the extended runway, possibly with some adaptations to ground infrastructure.

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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