George Best Belfast City Airport is pinning its hopes on a favourable review that would allow passenger numbers to climb from the Northern Ireland capital.

Set just ten minutes from the centre of Belfast, the Ferrovial-owned airport currently handles around 2m passengers per year, but a review by the Department of the Environment”s Planning Office may increase that to 4m by 2030.

”We have operating restrictions here that limit scheduled services to between 6am and 9pm, while air traffic movements are restricted to 45,000 per year” said business development director, Maria Rueda.

”We applied for a review in 2004 and hope to have a conclusion shortly ” this is a cumulative process and we are leaving it to the planners. The government White Paper says 4m passengers [for us] by 2030 and we have to be in line with that. Our growth won”t be dramatic but it will be around 4% per year.”

George Best Belfast recently added London City to its network with CityJet, linking two extremely efficient airports together that offer business travellers rapid entry and exit.

Flybe is now the dominant carrier at the airport with banks of aircraft arriving in waves to cater for business passengers, although bmi also has a significant presence using Airbus A319 jets, the largest machine along with the Boeing 737-800, that can use the 1,826m (5,991ft).

There are no plans to launch transatlantic services and as the runway length is to stay the same, that would appear to preclude the idea. However, the airport would like to have more direct, key business routes such as Brussels, Paris and Amsterdam.

British Airways (BA) pulled off the London Heathrow-Belfast route following the 9/11 attacks and although a spokesman told ABTN that ”everything was under review,” he added that BA had lost a large amount of money on the service.

”BA has its own strategy,” said Rueda, adding: ”Slots at Heathrow are very precious and they are using them for long-haul services but Willie Walsh [BA CEO] has said that he will not discard coming back to Belfast.”

George Best Belfast recently unveiled a series of new routes, including Dundee (flywhoosh), Cardiff and Paris (Flybe), as well as Blackpool (Jetstream Express).

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