Airport in planning 'handcuff' plea
Up to 300 new jobs could be created if a cap on the number of passenger numbers at the George Best Belfast City Airport was lifted, it has been claimed.
Airport chief executive Brian Ambrose said the airport, which employs 1,500 people, was being handcuffed by outdated planning legislation.
He said: "Literally (there could be) hundreds of additional jobs potential if we could grow this business naturally."
During a briefing to Stormont's environment committee, Mr Ambrose said plans to add routes from Belfast to Paris, Brussels and Frankfurt were being put at risk because there was a limit on the number of people allowed to pass through the airport terminal.
He said: "We are currently negotiating for summer 2014. If we miss that window we could lose another 12 months' business. We need to have the handcuffs taken off us to do deals with airlines."
Mr Ambrose said the airport's Swiss owners were dumbfounded by the nine-year delay in dealing with proposed changes to the planning agreement. He claimed it was easy for anyone with a good legal team to block planning legislation in Northern Ireland and revealed that the airport had spent more than £1 million on legal fees.
Under the current laws, 48,000 flights are permitted from Belfast City Airport every year. The latest figures show that around 2.5 million passengers were carried on 43,000 flights - 5,000 short of the quota. The airport's opening hours are also restricted.
Mr Ambrose said the seats for sale regulations was introduced for the old terminal building which had been demolished but was now being exploited by environmentalists and competitors.
DUP MLA Simon Hamilton said the airport had been treated abysmally by the system. He said: "It is a travesty to call it a process. It would have been better to have a no nine years ago than to have a nothing for a decade. It is disgraceful."
Liz Fawcett, chair of the Belfast City Airport Watch Steering Group, questioned the argument that jobs would be created if the seats for sale limit was lifted. She said: "We're as keen as anyone to see the creation of more jobs for the local economy, but we would ask what evidence the City Airport has for its assertion that 300 new jobs would be created by doing away with the seats for sale restriction. If politicians want to see the aviation industry create more employment for Belfast and Northern Ireland, there's plenty of spare capacity at Belfast International Airport."