George Best Belfast City airport wants to scrap the ‘seats for sale’ restrictions currently in place as it aims to grow passenger numbers and add more direct European routes.

The four-day public inquiry into the removal of the sales cap starts today after the airport argued it is putting constraints on growth.

Belfast airport is limited to selling no more than two million departing seats a year as local residents fear any changes to the restrictions will result in “intolerable” noise levels from an increase in flights.

Brian Ambrose, chief executive of George Best Belfast City Airport, said: “We look forward to the public inquiry and the removal of an outdated constraint on our operations.”

He said it wanted the change to enable it “to compete and actively pursue additional airlines and more direct European routes”.

“No larger planes will use the runway than currently do so,” he added.

The battle to change the rules has been ongoing for a number of years and Belfast City Airport Watch, a group representing residents, argue the airport’s attempt to alter planning is “unacceptable”.

Chairperson Liz Fawcett said: “We have evidence that many residents already suffer disrupted sleep, higher stress and poorer quality of life, due to existing levels of aircraft noise.”

“It’s quite intolerable for the airport to heap further misery on residents in the pursuit of higher profits when we already have an international airport sitting in a green field site with spare capacity just up the road.”

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