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.

  • Alan

    “Is it really such hell underneath the flight path on the gold coast? ”

    Rather disparaging remarks about a real environmental problem! It’s not just the Gold Coast, it’s also most of South and, particularly, East Belfast. The noise is a real nuisance that is being allowed to develop just to allow the airport owners to profit.

    Extending the runway and night flights will be next, then the charter planes will start to use it. Belfast residents don’t need that – we can accept business travel, but not 3 am flights to Ibiza or elsewhere.

    The charter flight needs of most cities in the country are serviced by airports well outside the city centre.

  • IJP

    Hi Brian,

    It’s a hard one this, and I’m not sure reports like this morning’s (re the impact of noise on schools) really help in the long run.

    You see, it shouldn’t take a “NIMBY” campaign to stop, or at least limit, expansion proposals. Expansion, most specifically of the runway, is just a bad idea.

    We already have an international airport for international flights, and indeed we even have international competition for it an hour and a half down the road now. We do not need three internatonal airports within striking distance.

    What we do need is more routes within the UK. People will soon stop wanting to fly to obscure places in the middle of France and Spain, but there are plenty of destinations in Britain that would make good business sense which are not currently served.

    Put simply, if people are flying long-haul they won’t mind the extra trek to Aldergrove or even Dublin before they go. However, if it’s only a short hop over to Scotland, East Midlands or wherever, City can offer a genuine competitive advantage, with significant and relevant time savings.

    City goes into competition with Aldergrove (and Dublin) at its own peril. However, if it remembers its own name (City) and the designation that comes with it, there is room for enhancement without expansion of the runway.

    A NIMBY-style campaign will be doomed to failure. Residents should focus on the holes in the business case – for it’s not really a very good one.

  • Allan

    Once again we have inaccurate reporting from the BBC – they show an aircraft supposedly landing at the City airport yet the photo is of a Boeing 747 a type which doesn’t (and couldn’t) land there!

    One of the reasons the City has been so popular is because it is run like an airport should be with successive owners investing heavily to make the travelling experience less stressful. By contrast, Aldergrove is quite frankly a dump stuck in an 80s time warp with years of under or no investment clearly evident. The 44 year old terminal building is falling to pieces despite various abortive attempts to disguise its origins.

    Until Aldergroves’ owners put their hands in their pockets and spend some money to modernise the airport, then the City will continue to be the choice of an increasing number of passengers.

  • Brendan,Belfast

    IJP – where exactly are the holes in the Airport’s business case?

    The campaign against the airport is pathetic. No it is not hell living underneath the flight path. Ihave even heard people form south Belfast (near neighbours of mine) complaining about the impact of the airport. Nonsense.

    Does anyone suggest we could do without the airport? Or that airports are not noisy?

    Get over it.

  • If I’ve got this right, BHD is being sold to an investment arm of ABN, which means that the ultimate owner is … the Royal Bank of Scotland.

    More Alban imperialism.

    The points made above, by other commenters, are well put. Quite why Belfast needs two under-used airports does not worry me too much: once (if …) the present fuel-crisis and fall in passenger traffic is overcome, then routes and services will continue to grow. That, of course, won’t stop certain bods arguing to abandon the mote of the City of Derry, because it’s so close to Aldergrove; while ignoring the beam in the other eye.

    A number of other arguments are falling apart. Routes out of BHD are likely to be reduced in the short term. Aer Lingus now clearly has no intent to open other routes out of BFS (while what one commenter calls “the bucket-and-spade” routes are being cut back for the winter: will they all be restored next summer?), but seem to be putting bigger capacity aircraft onto the LHR service: this means that the equipment used for the transatlantic services (which Aer Lingus are reducing anyway, at least in the short term) is getting a further rotation. As long as they have 80% load-factors, they’re laughing. Aer Lingus were looking to achieve code-sharing with KLM: which seems to have failed.

    I hear that some “experts” are puzzled by easyJet’s recent activities. They opened a service from BFS to Inverness, then ceded it to Flybe. They retimed their morning service to Malaga to coincide with the Aer Lingus flight (a technique refined by Ryanair), which made the Jet2 afternoon flight more attractive. About which, there seems some doubt about Jet2’s future intentions.

    And I wish someone who knows more that I do could explain why Belfast to NYC is typically 50% more expensive than Continental out of London.

    All of which suggests that private enterprise is not without its hiccups.

  • Alan

    “Does anyone suggest we could do without the airport? Or that airports are not noisy?

    Get over it. ”

    I’d be happy to see the Airport continue as at present, so the above is simply a tendentious, non-sequitur.

    The issue is how do we control development so that the airport can live at peace ( comparatively speaking ) with those of us who live under it’s spreading wings.

    And let’s take it as read that the noise is a damned nuisance, you have no chance of continuing a conversation while planes thunder overhead – and they keep coming. The notion of late night flights should simply be a non-starter.

    Interestingly the security word for this post is Hell – let’s not go that far !

  • cynic

    “And let’s take it as read that the noise is a damned nuisance”

    Alan

    Sorry but no it isnt and I dont think we should take it as read.

    I regularly travel through the area and see aircraft overhead and landing. It’s not that big a noise even over the Sydenham bypass where they are on their final approach and at their lowest height. Modern aircraft are quiet and at that stage of their approach are throttled right back as they drift in to land.

    And all the final approach from the City Centre onwards is over the river, Odessey complex and Victoria Park, not the residential areas as the Residents claim.

    I dont doubt that there is some noise and that they dont like it, but let’s keep it in proportion. This NIMBY campaign doesnt even seem to be very well run – all emotion and no real facts. Today they quote a former head teacher at the Primary on planes “skimming the top of the classrooms”. Sorry, but it’s all complete nonsense. If you even look at a map of the area any plane flying over the school would complelely miss the runway. It would be 90 degrees off course ie at right angles to the runway.

    Yet this nonsense is picked up and whipped up by the BBC on a quiet news day. And as Allan has already noted, they then compound this by using a photoshopped picture of a 747 (enlarged to make it look huge) over a row of houses (not in East Belfast). Great journalism guys, although I see you have now changed the picture after the complaints!

  • spiritof07

    So how exactly are residents affected. According to the BBC web site, former school principal Jean Cogger says “planes were practically skimming the roof of one of our classrooms.”

    Sorry? Is she for real? I must have missed that one on the news, maybe because it didnt happen? Such a claim shows up the campaign for what it is. Whiners and mopers indeed.

    The head of Cregaghh Primary school goes on “football lessons are distracted by planes”. How exactly are they disrupted Ronnie? “Its annoying for the teacher.”

    Poor teacher.

  • pat

    ‘And all the final approach from the City Centre onwards is over the river, Odessey complex and Victoria Park, not the residential areas as the Residents claim.’

    The planes i see coming in to land don’t pass over the odyssey at all.

    They come in from South Belfast (North/South Parade),Pass over residential Ravenhill, Residential Albertbridge and residential sydenham.

    I have to put up with the noise everyday, it certainly is very loud on the flight path.

    ‘Modern aircraft are quiet and at that stage of their approach are throttled right back as they drift in to land’

    I’m no expert but when the engine thrust is reversed to slow the plane down on landing it is very noisy

  • spiritof07

    Pat, “I’m no expert.”

    Lets just leave it at that.

  • Hogan

    Seems to be alot of division between the different residents groups?

    Does anyone else think in the competition to get shouting the loudest they let the facts fall by the wayside. In fairness to them they don’t actually have a legal duty to keep the facts at the forefront (But the BBC do!)

  • Alan

    “I regularly travel through the area and see aircraft overhead and landing. It’s not that big a noise even over the Sydenham bypass where they are on their final approach and at their lowest height.”

    Might iIsuggest you get out of your car on the Sydenham by-pass, build a house around it, arrange to have yourself a number of young children and then decide whether the noise is problematic or not.

    Pat has it right in terms of where the overflight happens. I regularly fly in across Belvoir, Malone, Stranmillis, Ormeau, Ravenhill and into East Belfast. To say that the planes go in over the river is a distraction. The river winds quite peacefully, but the plane doesn’t. We’re also not talking about the Mississippi, most of the Lagan would be less than a wingspan across.

    As I have said, it is not the current position that is at question, but making the situation worse for local people in the future – that has to be stopped.

  • cynic

    “Belvoir, Malone, Stranmillis, Ormeau, Ravenhill and into East Belfast”

    OK….but at what height and with what level of noise? Forgive me but the average Citybus makes more noise passing those areas.

  • Pounder

    I someone who lives near enough under the flight path, though not under it which apparently makes my opinion invalid, I do think enough is enough and the City Airport is going too far. The planes are indeed getting lower, with the arrival of Ryanair the planes have got much larger and noisier. Remember these are planes so large Ryanair can only half fill them or the bloody things sink and damage the runway. You don’t think so? Try living here, in sydenham. I don’t actually need to set an alarm anymore, the big fecking plane that takes off every day at 6.30am wakes me up just fine.

    Several weeks ago I attended a Friends Of Victoria Park meeting and basically what I was that the, now former, owners of the airport are seeking to build a customs house too, making Belfast City another International Airport. Do we really need two? Apparently they are also trying to inch into Victoria Park, going so far as to pour oil on the swan eggs and pay local thugs to kill the swans, which are protected.

    I grew up playing football in Victoria Park and have taken a great amount of joy feeding the swans and ducks with my niece. I’d like to see Victoria Park exist long enough for me to take my kids there, sadly this doesn’t look like happening and it’s apathy from those uneffected that will make it a reality.

  • Alan

    Cynic,

    Yes, traffic noise can drown out some of the worst noise from the planes during the day. There ia a constant roar during rush hour throughout Belfast. The issue, however, is noise in the evenings and at night.

    I get the noise as planes arrive into the city, which is bad enough. Other people, including thousands of children and the elderly remember , have to contend with the noise from every single flight. It seems that local people have to obsequiously explain their interest in order to get derided by anonymous people with set opinions, but no experience.

    We don’t have to let this happen and we should not let it happen.

  • Hogan

    “Do we really need two? Apparently they are also trying to inch into Victoria Park, going so far as to pour oil on the swan eggs and pay local thugs to kill the swans, which are protected.”

    Yes and the evil xray machines at the airport also eat your children!!!

    Give me a break.

  • spiritof07

    Why don’t we let the market decide whether we need two airports or not? If the demand is there – perhaps through Belfast / NI growing economically or as a tourist destination (imagine the horror of that!) – then expand the airport to cater for the demand.

    Dowe really need two airports? I for one sure hope so. London has 4 after all, you cater to demand.

  • Hogan

    Can anyone shed any light on the rumours that the BBC were actually trespassing the other day in the school yard?

    I’ve heard that this headmistress was retired and just used her old keys to let herself onto school property without the permission of the Belfast Board or the school trustees.

    Apparently the reporter involved took her at face value as she was a personal friend although seemingly UTV were a little more discerning?

    Doesn’t exactly lend a lot of credibility to their scientific polling does it?

  • cynic

    “I get the noise as planes arrive into the city, which is bad enough. Other people, including thousands of children and the elderly remember , have to contend with the noise from every single flight.”

    …. the question is …what noise? That’s what the objectors dont address. Where are the measurements? What is the noise footprint? How often does it happen – most landings are from the Holywood side where these are almost no houses?

    In my experience the trains and cars on the bypass make more noise and are closer to the houses.

    Have the children objected to this? In what way does it affect them? And why are the elderly more upset by planes than anyone else? Dont you think that is all a trifle ageist and condescending?