O'Leary condemns runway extension delay
Up to 500 new jobs and more air routes to Europe are being jeopardised by the delay to the George Best Belfast City Airport runway extension, Ryanair claimed today.
Five new direct links to Germany, Belgium and Italy could have gone ahead this year without the political "fudge" at Stormont, Ryanair chief executive Michael O`Leary added.
He said the delay also meant Belfast would lose out on half a million extra passengers a year.
The North's Environment Minister, Edwin Poots, last month decided to put the matter to public inquiry after a high-profile campaign by some residents living near the east Belfast airport who claimed the extension will increase noise pollution levels.
Mr O`Leary said: "They have devolved decision making powers here in Northern Ireland and the first decision they have taken is to fudge this off to a public inquiry. We are used to that in Dublin but we had higher hopes for the independent thought and political action here."
He added: "It seems they are struck by the same disease."
The €9m plan to lengthen the runway by nearly 600 metres (1,968ft) would allow planes with heavier fuel loads to use the airport, thus opening up the possibility of flights to and from further afield in Europe.
But residents claimed this would significantly increase engine noise.
Mr O`Leary said there would be no early morning or late evening flights.
He added his operation in Belfast was breaking even but said the company agreed to move there on the understanding a longer runway would be in place by 2010.
He is having to fly 189-seat planes with a maximum of 140 passengers because of the runway.
"If we are not carrying consistently 160/170 passengers on every flight we can`t make money," he added.
He added that the extension would bring a massive payback for Belfast in tourism.
"We would like to develop new routes at Belfast City Airport, we would like to offer choice and competition over the very few high fare services at Aldergrove but not with one hand tied behind our backs," he said.
"We have many hundreds of thousands of visitors being denied access to Belfast and to Northern Ireland by the absence of services.
"I don`t believe there`s any local objections to me flying out of Belfast City either."
A survey of residents found that three quarters claimed flights affected their sleep, while nearly half of parents said their children weren't getting enough sleep because of the noise.
They believed an extended runway would leave an international airport right on their doorsteps.