George Best Belfast City Airport

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Air travel is an increasingly popular method of transportation, especially when traveling great distances or getting somewhere fast. Ireland, being the island that it is, relys on it's airports to allow contact with the outside word.

There are threee main public airports in Northern Ireland: George Best Belfast City Airport in Belfast, City of Derry Airport just outside Londonderry, and Belfast International Airport, between Belfast and Antrim.

For this entry, we will be looking at the first of these airports, the George Best Belfast City Airport.

1937 to the Present Day

The airport was originally opened in 1937 by Shorts Brothers, and was known as the Sydenham Airport. It is conveniently situated on the same site as the Shorts aerospace manufacturing facility.

It was the main civilian airport in Belfast in 1938 and 1939, and was used by the Royal Navy during World War 2. It remained under military control until the 1970s. Following this, it was used by Shorts (which had been bought by Bombardier). In 1983, after interest from the public and airlines, the airstrip reopened for public commercial use. It was then known as Belfast Harbour Airport and was open for commercial flights. The name was later changed to Belfast City Airport.

Bombardier later sold the airport to the Spanish company Ferrovial for £35 million. The company also manage 13 other airports worldwide, including Sydney (Australia), Bristol (UK), and nine airports in Mexico. Ferrovial is also one of the leading construction groups in Europe.

It operates a single asphalt runway, 1829m (6001 feet) in length. Passenger flights and flying instruction are allowed at the airport as it has a CAA Public Use Aerodrome Licence (Number P862).

During 2007, 43022 aircraft and almost 2.2 million passengers used the airport. This shows an increase of 3.9% in passenger numbers from 2006, and there has been a 15.1% increase in passengers between 2002 and 2007. The refurbishment in 2004 allowed for more aircraft and passengers to use the airport.

How To Get There

The George Best Belfast City Airport is situated two miles (3.2km) from the centre of Belfast, Northern Ireland, on the A2, known as the Sydenham by-pass, between Belfast and Holywood.

It has short-stay and long-stay car parks. There are also several bus connections to the airport, with a bus stop just outside the terminal building. The Flexibus route 600 departs at the bus station beside the Europa Hotel on Great Victoria Street in Belfast City Centre and terminates at the airport. The Metrobus Number 3 runs from Sydenham to Belfast City Hall every twenty minutes. There are also nine Airporter coaches coaches every day from Londonderry to the airport. Rail passengers can access the airport via a bus link from the Sydenham train station.


Due to the location of the airport, noise pollution is, understandably, a major issue for those living in close proximity, and there has been much debate about this issue.

As a result, certain restrictions have been put in place to help eliminate noise pollution. These include:

  • Flights must only operate between 6.30am and 9.30pm, with exception of delayed flights, which may operate until midnight.
  • There can only be 45 thousand commercial flights per year.
  • Airlines cannot offer for sale more than 1.5 million seats on flights from the airport each year.
  • Most flights are to arrive and leave over Belfast Lough, rather than over the city. However, just over half of flights currently use this route.

Ferrovial are currently assessing the possibility of gaining access to the airport via the adjacent Holywood Exchange retail park. This would ease congestion at the current entrance and would make use of the existing flyover that serves the retail park.

The airport has a planning agreement, dating from 1997, which protects against over-expansion due to the large residential population sited in the vicinity of the airport. Part of this agreement is a limit on the number of seats the airport is allowed to sell. The airport recently applied to have this limit removed completely. However, this lead to residents groups forming the Coalition Against Belfast City Airport Expansion. The Coalition provided representation for the residents at the Examination in Public held in 2006. This has been particularly important, as the number of residents affected by aircraft has increased in recent years due to the introduction of new larger aircraft, such as the BMI Airbus.

There are plans to build a hotel on the site or either the short-stay car park or the area used for cargo facilities. If it is sited where the short-stay car park is at present, there will be a covered walkway leading into the terminal. However, no plans have been finalised or unveiled as yet. At present, the nearest hotels are situated in Belfast City Centre, which is about 10-15 minute drive from the terminal.

George Best

Following the death of Belfast footballer George Best in 2005, it was decided to rename Belfast City Airport after him. However, there was much controversy among Belfast residents about the renaming, with the differing opinions being reported in the local and national media. Some people believed the airport should be renamed after a more appropriate person, while others were in support of the move.

Many suggestions were brought as to exactly what the new name should be. One suggestion, made by snooker player Alex Higgins, was to simply take away the letters L, F and A from the word “Belfast”, thus changing the name to “Best City Airport”. This idea was later dropped.

On 22nd May 2006, the new name of “George Best Belfast City Airport” was unveiled in a special ceremony attended by Best’s family and friends, including Martin O’Neill and Pat Jennings, former Northern Ireland international players, and boxer Chris Eubank. The date was chosen as it would have been Best’s 60th birthday.

Brian Ambrose, chief executive of the airport, said of the renaming, "We believe that renaming the airport after George is a fitting and permanent tribute to his footballing brilliance."

The Best family were involved in every stage of the airport’s renaming and George’s sister, Barbara McNarry, said that they were delighted with what was being done.

Inside the airport, a permanent tribute was set up. It also allowed for people to donate to the George Best Foundation. Best’s consultant during the last stages of his illness, Professor Roger Williams, said that this was “a fitting tribute for someone who did great things for Northern Ireland.”


Flybe began operating from the airport in 1993 and has the largest representation at the airport. Ryanair commenced flights at the airport on 30th October 2007. This was the 23rd base for the company. It took over the Belfast to Stansted route after Air Berlin announced it would no longer be flying that route as of 31st October 2007.

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