An extra 3,000 flights a year could use Belfast City Airport, it was revealed today.
With operators wanting to introduce late-night services to the east Belfast landing strip, residents said even current levels were producing noise and disruption.
A leaked letter from the airport said the new total would take account of journeys by private jets and charter aircraft not covered by the old cap.
Lobby group AirportWatch spokesperson Fiona McKinley said: “We know from our own grassroots feedback that the current level of flights is causing widespread disruption of people’s daily lives – many people are suffering broken sleep while, in some of the worst-affected neighbourhoods, people have to stop their conversation when a plane goes overhead.”
Last year there were a total of 43,007 flights into the airport, according to the authority, 39,616 commercial and 3,391 private.
The North's Department of the Environment (DoE) said the change was not substantive and added it was a tighter restriction on non-commercial flights, whose numbers are not currently limited.
However, Ms McKinley accused the DoE of token consultation with community groups concerned about extra noise and disruption for residents living nearby.
Services are permitted at the site from 6.30am.
Ms McKinley said recently planes had begun taking off before 7am, although this had not breached anything in the planning agreement.
The airport is allowed up to 45,000 commercial flights a year. The draft planning agreement permits the total for all journeys to rise by 3,000 to 48,000.
There is also a proposal to increase the number of seats available within a year from 1.5 million to 2m.
Extra obligations to contain noise are included as well as proposals to hand over fines for late flights to the community.
A Planning Service letter said: “There has also been a minor adjustment from 45,000 to 48,000 in any 12 month period in order to clarify the existing position.”
Pilots approach and take off over Belfast Lough to minimise noise for residents.
A City Airport spokesman said: “The planning agreement is for the DoE to announce so we will not be speculating. We will not comment on what may or may not be in any future planning agreement.”
A DoE spokeswoman said: “The 48,000 limit doesn’t represent a substantive change and can be viewed as a tighter restriction since it now covers all flights.”