Northern Ireland

George Best Belfast City Airport: Council backs passenger rise bid

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Media captionGeorge Best Belfast City Airport has been attempting to lift the seats cap since 2004

Belfast councillors have backed a plan by the city's George Best Airport to grow passenger numbers, believing it will boost the local economy.

The council was responding to the airport's attempts to scrap its "seats for sale" restriction.

That limits it to selling two million departing seats a year.

But in a letter to the DoE, the council said the airport's pledges on noise control require closer scrutiny when a public inquiry is held on the issue.

The airport's bid to alter its planning agreement is controversial as residents' groups oppose the idea, arguing it will mean many more flights.

Belfast council's position, which is to be ratified in two weeks' time, follows support for the airport's plan from North Down council.

But it too has raised issues over noise.

The airport has been attempting to lift the seats cap since 2004.

There have been three judicial reviews, and in 2011, then minister Alex Attwood referred the matter to a public inquiry.

Since then, an environmental statement by the airport has been the subject of a public consultation exercise that ended last week.

George Best Belfast City Airport said lifting the seats restriction would enable it to attract new routes, like Frankfurt, and 'claw back' business from Dublin airport.

It also argued the move would increase its financial viability with almost 1,000 people working at the airport.

It proposed replacing the seats limit with noise control measures.

An airport spokesman said: "We take the issue of noise very seriously and comply fully and with all Department of the Environment (DoE) and European legislation in respect of this."

The airport's planning agreement limits flights in-and-out to 48,000 a year - last year there were around 37,000 - and the airport has stated future growth will be managed within that restriction.

A final decision on the seats issue rests with Environment Minister Mark H Durkan, following consideration at the public inquiry.

No date has yet been fixed for the inquiry, but it is likely to be held later this year.

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