Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Airport expansion should be kept out of town

Last summer my girlfriend and I experienced a hair-raising landing at George Best Belfast City Airport, courtesy, I suspect, of its infamous short runway.  Returning from a holiday in Brittany our Flybe flight, routed via Southampton, touched down on the tarmac, only to rear up and take to the air again, with the captain muttering ‘landing aborted’ over the intercom.

We proceeded to circle for ten more minutes, with some passengers now in a state of understandable distress, before a successful descent was executed.  On that occasion cross winds were given as an explanation, and, no doubt, the hefty gusts which funnel down Belfast Lough didn‘t help.  However, during its aborted landing, the plane did spend quite a few seconds on the tarmac.  It certainly felt like the pilot thought there was not sufficient runway left to brake safely and decided not to risk attempting to bring the aircraft to a halt.

No doubt Michael O’Leary, announcing Ryanair’s decision to pull out of the City Airport, due to the absence of a runway extension, would argue that my story proves his point.  After all, his pilots have even taken to warning passengers to expect a dramatic landing at the airport, due to its truncated tarmac.  ‘Don’t be frightened’, they reassure their helpless payload.

A proposed runway extension is just one of a number of high profile projects tied up in seemingly endless bureaucracy at the Northern Ireland Planning Service.  There is, of course, a serious problem with its procedures, but O’Leary doesn’t mention that there are also legitimate concerns about siting airports in built up city environments.  Major transport hubs need space, and lots of it.

Numerous small, city centre airports feature unnerving descents.  Their flight paths carry aircraft directly over residential areas, which creates both safety and noise issues.  The City Airport’s location problems are compounded by strong winds and low lying fog, which has on occasion closed the site, while its equivalent at Aldergrove stayed open.

I am a fairly frequent flyer, a keen traveller and an enthusiast for more routes, in and out of Northern Ireland, but I do believe that the International Airport, which is only about seventeen miles from central Belfast, should be the focus for development, rather than the City Airport‘s harbour site.

It needs more convenient (and cheaper) transport links with the city centre, including a rail connection, but the International is much the better location for a major airport.

Michael O’Leary is personally unlikeable and his company is understandably regarded with contempt by many travellers, but it is difficult to have no sympathy with his frustration at the government and civil service ’go slow’ in Northern Ireland.

John Lewis is another company which is rightly furious at the way we do business here.  Surely it is possible to reach planning decisions quicker, even if they don’t go in favour of the major companies who want to invest money in our economy?

The fact remains, however, that it is entirely right that there should be restrictions on the City Airport’s expansion.  Its location is not suitable for unchecked development.  There’s plenty of potential for more flights, more destinations and longer runways just twenty miles up the road.

8 comments:

K D Tennent said...

If the NIR Circle Line proposal to use the mothballed Lisburn-Antrim line to run circular suburban services ever gets going, surely a station at Aldergrove could be included? The railway line passes very close to the airport and a shuttle bus could deliver passengers in a couple of minutes - perhaps this could be improved into a travelator walkway at some point. Adittedly this would probably require track doubling from Lisburn - Antrim and Antrim - Whiteabbey, but it would be a quick and cheap win.

Chekov said...

The line crosses the road very close to Aldergrove, so if it were to be reinstated, a short spur could take in the airport. Instead we have a Translink bus service at £7 a pop and a set of drivers whose remit seems to include growling at newly arrived visitors if they have the temerity to pay with a £20 note.

Another gripe with the GBBCA. No part of the apron is more than a couple of hundred yards from the baggage carousel yet it takes an interminable length of time for luggage to arrive. Some of the least compact airports in the world are quicker.

Hernandez said...

The planning system in Northern Ireland is clearly under resourced, a situation which has been exacerbated by the Environment Minister's decision to shed 269 jobs from the Planning Service - almost a third of its entire workforce - last April. However, this saga is less about the effectiveness of the Planning Service and more about the sheer front of O'Leary to suggest that the residents of East Belfast have the right to be heard but only on the condition that their 'frivolous' complaints about noise, quality of life, environmental impact etc, are quickly ignored so that Ryanair can continue to cram in more flights and make more money. The public inquiry procedure is not a time wasting barrier to economic growth, and nor does it demonstrate a "lack of willingness on the part of local authorities to grow and develop traffic, routes, tourism and jobs". It is a proper, democratic process designed to examine in detail the merits of the proposals and ensure that the correct decision is made, and that appropriate mitigation measures are implemented so that the quality of life of nearby residents is preserved. It is not the role of the Northern Ireland planning system to bow down to bullies such as O'Leary.

bene yamin said...

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Meet and greet Gatwick said...

Agreed that The public inquiry procedure is not a time wasting barrier to economic growth, and nor does it demonstrate a "lack of willingness on the part of local authorities to grow and develop traffic, routes, tourism and jobs.

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carla grace said...

Agreed! The fact remains, however, that it is entirely right that there should be restrictions on the City Airport’s expansion. some of the least compact airports in the world are quicker but it good that everything was safe. Well what if talk about secure parking service . It always seems difficult to go for right option . The right recommendation gatwick chauffeur parking .

perry cole said...

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