Wednesday, 1 September 2010
Airport expansion should be kept out of town
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.