Belfast City Airport late-night flight ‘failures’ criticised by Ombudsman – changes needed
The Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman has found 3,073 late-night flights (between 21.31 and 23.59 GMT) occurred at Belfast City Airport between 2008 and early 2016, and there was maladministration by a Stormont department over these late-night flights. The Ombudsman said there had been “a series of failures” by the former Department of the Environment (DoE) which for several years did not gather data on late-night flight movements “on a regular and systematic basis”. The investigation was carried out after a complaint was made by Belfast City Airport Watch, which represents residents. The Ombudsman said the DoE should have had an “agreed understanding” of what the night time restrictions meant in practice, so people living close to the airport knew “what was intended by this obligation”. It has recommended an operational definition should now be reached between the Department for Infrastructure, which has replaced the DoE, and the airport. A spokesperson for Belfast City Airport Watch said “We have spent years trying to convince the authorities they needed to take action on this issue. What is important now is that the department acts on the report’s recommendations as quickly as possible.”
Belfast City Airport late-night flight ‘failures’ criticised
By Julian O’Neill (BBC News NI Business Correspondent)
2 February 2018
The ombudsman found 3,073 late-night flights occurred at Belfast City Airport between 2008 and early 2016
A watchdog has found there was maladministration by a Stormont department over late-night flights at George Best Belfast City Airport.
Flights operating between 21:31 and 23.59 GMT are only permitted in “exceptional circumstances”.
But the ombudsman found 3,073 such flights between 2008 and early 2016.
The Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman said there had been “a series of failures” by the former Department of the Environment (DoE).
For several years, the DoE did not gather data on late-night flight movements “on a regular and systematic basis”, it said.
The investigation was carried out after a complaint was made by Belfast City Airport Watch, which represents residents.
Under its planning agreement, the airport is allowed to facilitate delayed flights – but only in “exceptional” situations.
However, the ombudsman said the department should have had an “agreed understanding” of what this meant in practice, so people living close to the airport knew “what was intended by this obligation”.
It has recommended an operational definition should now be reached between the Department for Infrastructure, which has replaced the DoE, and the airport.
A complaint was made to the ombudsman on behalf of Belfast City Airport Watch, which claimed the airport was “abusing the exceptional circumstances clause”.
A spokesperson for Belfast City Airport said it was “fully compliant” with its operating agreement.
Spokesperson Mari Fitzduff said: “We have spent years trying to convince the authorities they needed to take action on this issue.
“What is important now is that the department acts on the report’s recommendations as quickly as possible.”
A spokesman for the airport said it was “fully compliant” with its operating agreement, adding: “No airport in the world operates without delays.”
The 3,073 flights “accounted for only 1.04% of all total aircraft movements” during the period in question, added the spokesman.
Belfast City Airport Watch
Residents welcome Ombudsman’s late flights report
Ombudsman finds Department for Infrastructure guilty of maladministration for failure to enforce late flights rule
Feb 2nd 2018
Residents affected by aircraft noise from George Best Belfast City Airport have welcomed a report by the Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman, Marie Anderson, which is heavily critical of the failure by the Department for Infrastructure to properly enforce the airport’s late flights rule i.e. to permit no flights beyond the 9.30 p.m. deadline except in exceptional circumstances.
- In response to the Ombudsman’s enquiries, the Department stated that the 3000 plus flights that took place over a 7 year period were ‘exceptional’. They had however no definition for ‘exceptional’.
- Ombudsman also noted that the Department failed to gather data on a regular and systematic basis on late flight movements from 2008 to 2011 for the purpose of monitoring the Airport’s compliance with the 2008 Planning Agreement;
- The Department failed to investigate BCAWL’s complaint thoroughly and provide adequate responses to concerns raised.
The report found the Department’s failure amounted to maladministration, and made a number of recommendations:
o The Department should enter into discussions with the Airport with a view to establishing an operational definition of ‘exceptional circumstances’
o The Department should establish and implement operating procedures for analysing data, record keeping and reasons for monitoring decisions.
o The Department should also provide training to ensure that staff are aware of the importance of responding to complaints in an effective manner.
In addition, the Department are required to make a compensatory payment of £1000 together with an apology to BCAWL to effect a fair settlement of the matters complained of. The report notes:
‘This payment reflects the injustice of frustration, outrage and uncertainty relating to the Department’s maladministration in regard to the 2008 Planning Agreement. It also reflects the injustice of frustration and uncertainty about the complaint handling and time and trouble in pursuing the complaint’.
Speaking on behalf of the residents’ group, Belfast City Airport Watch, Steering Group member Professor Mari Fitzduff said residents were delighted with the ruling:
“We have spent years trying to convince the authorities that they needed to take action on this issue,” she said. “Our case was dismissed by the Department but now, finally, we have been vindicated. We hope this will mean that long-suffering residents can finally look forward to peace and quiet in the late evening and night-time.
“What’s important now is that the Department acts on the report’s recommendations as quickly as possible.”
The planning agreement states that late flights should not occur after 9.30pm, except in ‘exceptional circumstances’. But the airport’s own figures show that late flights have occurred, on average, more than once a night, with nearly 500 in 2016 alone.
To support its case, Belfast City Airport Watch carried out an analysis of the reasons provided by the airport for more than 200 late flights. It found that, in most instances, the reasons given were routine ones, such as common technical issues, rather than anything which could be regarded as ‘exceptional’ and out of the ordinary.
One local person who has welcomed the Ombudsman’s ruling is Sydenham resident, Elizabeth Bennett (76). She lives under the flight path and is a full-time carer to her husband.
“Life is stressful enough for me already, and the planes only add to my stress levels,” she said.
“They start up at 6.30 in the morning and go on until late at night. I’ll certainly be very glad if they stop at 9.30pm as they’re supposed to.”
Another Sydenham resident, Marlene Allen, said late night noise can be a particular problem for children:
“I have two young foster daughters and, when they first arrived, they found the noise quite unsettling,”she said.
“I’ve also complained to the airport, only to have the phone put down on me.
“The government needs to act on this and I’m glad the Ombudsman has recognized that.”
The ruling has also been welcomed by Jessica Barreda, who lives in the Ravenhill area of south Belfast, under the flight path. She has two children, Chloe (9) and Adam (6). She also found complaining to the airport did not work:
“As a family, we find the noise really stressful and annoying,” she explained.
“If we’re out in the garden, we can’t really enjoy yourselves properly because there’s planes constantly going overhead and we can’t hear each other talk.
“Late flights are especially frustrating because we’re supposed to get a break from the noise after 9.30pm.
“I complained to the airport numerous times about late flights but they never took any action. I hope things are going to change now that this report’s been published.”
The Ombudsman’s report is published here:https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#inbox/16151418bdb9529f?projector=1&messagePartId=0.3
George Best Belfast City Airport’s 2016 Environmental Performance Report showed that there were 497 flights after 9.30pm in 2016: http://www.belfastcityairport.com/BCA/files/c3/c37e8ccc-79e9-4aa3-a377-70dddfdfb88c.pdf
Belfast City Airport Watch comprises 13 residents’ and community groups across affected areas within east and south Belfast, and north Down, and one trade union branch. It also has 729 individual associate members. For more information on the campaign, visit: www.belfastcityairportwatch.co.uk