A restriction on the number of seats for sale at George Best Belfast City Airport should be removed, an independent inquiry has recommended.
The airport is proposing to replace the cap with noise controls. The Planning Appeals Commission (PAC) found that residents living more than five kilometres from the airport should not face high volumes.
The airport wants to change its planning agreement, removing a restriction on the number of departure seats it can sell in a year, currently capped at two million.
Residents’ groups claim if the change is approved it will create a busier and noisier airport.
The PAC said: “Restriction 3, in respect of a seats for sale limitation, should be removed.”
It said the area affected by noise levels which cause people concern, 57 decibels, should not exceed 5.2 square kilometres.
That is the area which a Belfast City Council forecast for 2025 suggested would be affected if the seats for sale restriction remained in place.
A public inquiry was held into seats for sale last year.
A final decision will rest with Environment Minister Mark Durkan, who is not bound by any recommendation the inquiry made.
Its other recommendations included:
:: A levy of fines should be clearly laid out, to be imposed on flights landing after 9.30pm, increasing incrementally every 15 minutes.
:: A departure noise control system should be introduced setting out a specified maximum limit. Fines should be established and clearly set out in the amended agreement, with all penalties payable to an Airport Community Fund.
:: A continuous descent approach should be adopted for all aircraft landing.
:: A noise insulation scheme should be brought in for residential and noise-sensitive properties experiencing noise levels of 63 decibels or above.
A Planning Service statement said: “The department is considering the PAC recommendations with a view to making recommendations to the minister on if and how the planning agreement should be modified.
“It emphasises that at this stage no recommendation has been made by the department with regard to any decision in the light of the PAC report and no decision has been reached by the minister.”
An airport spokesman said: “We welcome the recommendation by the Planning Appeals Commission to remove the seats for sale limit, which has been a long standing barrier to our business.
“We will consider in more detail the findings of the report and will submit our views to the department within the time frame stipulated.”
Residents’ group Belfast City Airport Watch said it was concerned that, if the inquiry panel’s recommendations are implemented, more people will be exposed to a level of noise regarded as serious by the Government.