US hits back in SF aircraft row

A US Air Force Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey aircraft is seen after it arrived at the Tribhuvan International airport in Kathmandu, Nepal, in 2015.

A US Air Force Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey aircraft is seen after it arrived at the Tribhuvan International airport in Kathmandu, Nepal, in 2015.

The US government has hit back after Sinn Fein criticised the presence of its air force in the Province, saying that its military planes comply fully all UK law.

The issue arose after Sinn Fein south Antrim MLA Declan Kearney raised objections that US military aircraft passing through Belfast International Airport could be involved in renditions and “the furtherance of war”.

A Belfast US Consulate spokesman responded by saying its activity was completely lawful.

“The US Government is appreciative of the UK Government’s policy of granting permission for the transit of US service members and aircraft through the United Kingdom,” he said.

“The US government appreciates and respects the conditions under which planes can utilize UK airspace in accordance with UK law.”

Belfast International Airport in Co Antrim is adjoined by the RAF Aldergrove military base.

Sinn Fein MLA for South Antrim, Declan Kearney said concerns had been raised by constituents.

“A number of local people living in the vicinity of the airport have raised concerns with my office regarding the on-going US military flights entering and leaving Belfast International Airport,” he said.

“Questions must be answered by Belfast International Airport as to the purpose of these now-regular flights.

“Given the on-going humanitarian crises in Syria and throughout the Middle East, and the role of the US Air Force as a protagonist in these conflicts, it is essential that local airspace is not being misused to facilitate and exacerbate these terrible events.

“In recent years another Irish airport at Shannon has been used for illegal rendition flights from the Middle East to Guantanamo Bay.

“It is imperative that local airspace and the International Airport itself are not now used for similar reasons. I will be contacting airport management to seek answers.”

He said that Sinn Fein will “oppose all attempts to use the north, or anywhere else on this island, as a stepping stone for the furtherance of conflict and war”.

A spokesperson for Belfast International Airport confirmed US military craft do use the airport.

“We can confirm that we receive military flights, however, due to security considerations we are unable to give any further information,” a spokesman said.

It is understood that the US military aircraft use of Belfast International Airport sustains some 20 to 25 civilian jobs at the facility.