New battle over Belfast skies?

The handsome profit the Spanish firm Ferrovial will net from the sale of George Best city airport is a drop in the ocean compared to the massive debt it acquired by its purchase of BAA including the prize Heathrow. As the Times puts it, “the profitable sale of Belfast may raise Ferrovial’s hopes of generating extra revenue from the BAA sales. This would help to reduce its enormous debt burden, which Ferrovial said last week was 23.1 billion.” It now seems open skies for the development of City under new ownership. Operators using the airport were at first not allowed to sell more than 1.5 million seats a year. This was relaxed to allow 2.2 million last year and is now further eased to to 2.7 million passengers – credit crunch permitting. The new owners will have to decide whether to press ahead and seek to extend the runway – as wanted by operators such as Ryanair. Is it premature to say the Airport Watch campaigners have lost, even though I see not all the locals are unhappy, soothed by the airport management’s good PR. . Is it really such hell underneath the flight path on the gold coast? …..Or less often, over the city itself? They should try living in west London, where it’s two flights minute. Belfast objectors lack one of the arguments used against a third runway at Heathrow, that high speed rail would be a more environmentally friendly alternative for many of the half of its 67 million passengers a year who are short haul flyers. The same choice doesn’t apply to City – though I suppose there’s always Aldergrove, sorry, Belfast International. And then again, in the case of NI, travel broadens the mind, or so I like to think.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London