George Best Belfast City Airport are running a couple of Community Information days this week to give local residents an opportunity to find out more about how the airport runs and its plans for the future.
There’s another opportunity on Friday morning (27 August) between 8am and noon. Just go into the airport Information Desk and they’ll direct you to the conference room.
In light of the continued saga of the runway extension and the (delayed) public inquiry, not to mention the vocal campaigning by the Belfast City Airport Watch Ltd and other residents’ groups, the timing of the community engagement was no accident.
I popped along this evening. After years of manic travelling with work, the airport is no longer such a familiar destination. So it was interesting to see the changes inside the terminal building that have happened since I last flew out.
Staff from each area of the airport’s operation were available to talk about flight paths, the community fund and the recent terminal extension.
- Environmentally, BCA are putting a lot of effort into increasing the level of recycling across the airport site as well as reducing their energy consumption.
- Around 6% of airport passengers arrive by bus using the regular (and reliable) Metro service. An incalculably small number arrive by train to the Sydenham stop in front of the old terminal entrance and request the car park bus to ferry them across to the new terminal (or walk over the bridge and along the footpath).
- The Belfast City Airport Forum first met in March 1993. Membership of the forum was revised in 2009, and the minutes of the new group’s first meeting in March 2010 are available online.
- The quality of the runway surface and the groves running across it are tested frequently to ensure it meets standards and will supply sufficient friction to support planes braking sharply on landing.
- BCA’s bird management plan extends far beyond the airport’s perimeter and tries to reduce the likelihood of birds crossing the path of flights.
- The CAT I instrumentation landing system supports planes coming into land over Belfast Lough. When the current equipment shortly reaches the end of its life, the replacement will be installed at both ends of the runway (and will be CAT III capable in case the airport switch to that at a later date).
- As well as keeping two fire appliances on standby to cope with emergency landings and fires within the airport complex and the local area, BCA’s Fire and Rescue Service help train other emergency crews using their gas-powered hot fire rig, and deliver training courses within the community.
Staff were keen to talk about the runway extension. Adding 590 metres to the Holywood end of the runway would allow the existing aircraft to fly fully laden with passengers and fuel, offering destinations further afield in mainland Europe. BCA’s current planning constraint means it can operate no more than 48,000 flights each year. Last year they managed 39,328 flights carrying 2.60 million passengers; in 2008 they peaked at 42,998 flights for 2.56 million people. There is a fear that the longer runway would result in larger planes starting to operate from Belfast City Airport. BCA say they have no plans to allow carriers to use larger planes. They also point to the geography of the airport and the physical impossibility of parking larger airplanes on stands given the location of the runway and the terminal building. Jumbo jets wont fit!
While the open night was relatively quiet while I was there, it was beginning to get busier as I left. Young children were trying on a yellow fire-fighter’s helmet while local residents were getting their questions answered directly by airport staff. Liz Fawcett – chair of the Belfast City Airport Watch steering group (who aren't named on their website!) – popped in too to get some clarification on flight path reporting and runway extension issues.
It was interesting to hear one Holywood resident describe the reality of the noise of the first aircraft taking off each morning, but then reflecting that it was really handy having the airport just down the road!
As a major employer – around 1,500 people work at or in support of the airport – an irritant, and the gateway to holiday destinations and meetings in London, the airport’s engagement with the local East Belfast and North Down communities seems wholehearted and positive. And waiving the car parking fee was a nice touch too!