Belfast City Airport

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George Best Belfast City Airport
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County County Down
Owner 3i Group plc (3i)
Operator Belfast City Airport Ltd.
Location Port of Belfast
54°37’5"N, 5°52’21"W

Belfast City Airport (IATA: BHD, ICAO: EGAC), which now bears the full official name George Best Belfast City Airport, is a single-runway city-centre airport in Belfast. It is in the city's docks, on the County Down side of the city, adjacent to the Port of Belfast and three miles from Belfast City Centre. It shares the site with the Short Brothers/Bombardier aircraft manufacturing facility.

The airport began commercial operations in 1983, and was known as "Belfast City Airport" until it was renamed in 2006 in memory of George Best, the professional footballer from Belfast who died of alcoholism the previous year.[1] The airport has a Civil Aviation Authority public use aerodrome licence (number P862) that allows flights for the public transport of passengers or for flying instruction.

George Best Belfast City Airport in relation to Belfast city centre

The airport primarily handles flights within the United Kingdom: international services fly from Belfast International Airport at Aldergrove. Belfast City handled over 2.7 million passengers in 2010, its peak year, and slightly below 2.6 million in 2017. It was a major base for Flybe, which began operations at the airport in 1993 and was the largest operator at Belfast City. Flybe entered administration on 5 March 2020 and ceased operations. In 2012 Aer Lingus opened a base at the airport, transferring operations from Belfast International. Ground handling is provided by Swissport[2] and Menzies Aviation,[3] the latter also offering cargo handling services.


Early years

Sydenham Airport was established by Shorts beside its Belfast factory at Sydenham in 1937. It was opened on 16 March 1938 by Anne Chamberlain, the wife of then British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain. The inaugural flight was to Glasgow.[4] This became Belfast's main civilian airport from 1938 to 1939.

The airfield was requisitioned by the Royal Navy during the Second World War and named HMS Gadwall. RAF Nutts Corner then became Belfast's main airport (while Aldergrove would later become the primary airport in Ulster).

In 1952, the runway was extended to its present 6,000 feet.[4] The Sydenham airfield continued to be used for naval purposes until the 1970s, including use by the Fleet Air Arm as a naval aircraft storage unit, after which it was used solely by Shorts.

In 1983, following interest from airlines and customers, the airfield was opened for commercial flights as Belfast Harbour Airport, subsequently Belfast City Airport, and now in its current form.

Development from 2000 to 2010

A new terminal was officially opened on 3 June 2001.[4] Following major capital investment Bombardier sold the airport in 2003 for £35 million to the Spanish company Ferrovial,[5] the owner of BAA Airports. Ferrovial re-sold the airport in September 2008 for £132.5 million to ABN Amro Global Infrastructure Fund.[6]

In March 2006, it was announced that the airport would be renamed in memory of Belfast-born footballer George Best. The new name, George Best Belfast City Airport, and signage were revealed at the renaming ceremony attended by Best's family and friends on 22 May 2006, which would have been Best's 60th birthday.[1] The renaming of the airport caused controversy, with many articles in local and national print media highlighting the mixed feelings of Belfast residents.[7] Also in March 2006 Flybe announced that it would be naming its Belfast City – Manchester service after the footballer, dedicating a plane to him.

In October 2007 Ryanair established its 23rd base at the airport, operating five routes and carrying 800,000 annual passengers. The airline closed its Belfast City base in 2010 due to delays in the planned runway extension. The airline stated that would fly to European destinations from the airport if the runway was extended.[8]

In January 2010 easyJet commenced flights to Luton, though the airline moved the route back to Belfast International in 2011.

Manx2 moved its Isle of Man service to the airport in 2010, however the airline has since ceased operations.

Passenger numbers increased by 4.5% from 2,621,763 in 2009 to 2,740,341 in 2010, the highest total on record at the airport.

Development since 2011

Flybe Bombardier Q400 on the runway

In January 2011 Bmibaby moved its Belfast base to the airport, in order to keep its operation under one roof with sister airline BMI.[9] The airline ceased operations from Belfast City Airport in June 2012.

In October 2012 Aer Lingus moved its services from Belfast International to the Airport. The airline launched flights to five destinations, though has since reduced their operations to just one route.[10] Spanish carrier Vueling launched summer-seasonal flights to Barcelona in May 2015, though the route was cancelled in late 2015.[11] Dutch carrier KLM launched daily flights to Amsterdam in 2015, with flights operated by KLM Cityhopper.[12] Brussels Airlines launched flights to Brussels in 2016, though the airline axed the route in 2017.[13] In early 2017, Eastern Airways commenced flights to the Isle of Man following the demise of Citywing, though the airline axed the route in 2018. Icelandic carrier Air Iceland Connect commenced flights to Keflavik in 2017 on behalf of Icelandair, though the route was cancelled in 2018.[14] Loganair commenced operations to Carlisle in 2019, followed by Dundee in 2020.[15]

Flybe, which was a significant operator at the airport, ceased trading on 5 March 2020.[16]

Expansion plans and objections

Control tower at Belfast City

As the airport is adjacent to residential areas, the issue of noise pollution is a major one and a source of public debate. The airport has developed a noise management strategy following a planning agreement, under which the airport operates, and has established operational noise abatement procedures.

Busiest routes

15 busiest routes to and from Belfast City (2018)[17]
Rank Airport Total
2017 / 18
1 London–Heathrow 655,338 Decrease 5%
2 Manchester 280,250 Decrease 2%
3 Birmingham 275,477 Increase 2%
4 London–City 184,881 Increase 53%
5 Leeds Bradford 165,858 Decrease 1%
6 Edinburgh 151,147 Decrease 12%
7 East Midlands 150,497 Increase 1%
8 Glasgow 148,907 Decrease 9%
9 Southampton 128,209 Increase 8%
10 Cardiff 70,784 Increase 39%
11 Amsterdam 49,648 Increase 7%
12 Aberdeen 41,903 Decrease 2%
13 Málaga 41,041 Decrease 28%
14 Faro 39,674 Decrease 29%
15 Exeter 36,722 Increase 1%

Ground transport

Sydenham Station

Sydenham railway station is adjacent to the southern perimeter of the airport, across the A2 from the old passenger terminal. It is served by frequent trains between Bangor and Portadown. Trains towards Portadown call at Belfast Central and Great Victoria Street railway stations. With the construction of the new passenger terminal further northeast, passengers arriving or departing by train can request an airport courtesy bus to take them to or from the terminal.

The airport is on the A2, Sydenham by-pass road between Belfast and Holywood.

Translink Metro provide a bus service.

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Belfast City Airport)


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Best family proud of airport name". BBC News. 22 May 2006. Retrieved 19 December 2011. 
  2. "Swissport International Ltd. - Network". Retrieved 24 January 2019. 
  3. "Menzies Aviation - Network". Archived from the original on 7 May 2015. Retrieved 4 June 2015. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Belfast City Airport – History
  5. Spanish firm secures Northern Ireland Airport. BBC News (23 May 2003).
  6. "Belfast City Airport - News | Recent Stories | Belfast City Airport". Archived from the original on 6 May 2009. 
  7. 'George Best Airport' splits city. (22 March 2006).
  8. "Ryanair to pull out of Belfast City Airport". BBC News. 31 August 2010. Retrieved 20 June 2018. 
  9. "Archived copy". Retrieved 1 December 2018. 
  10. "Archived copy". Retrieved 1 December 2018. 
  11. "Archived copy". Retrieved 1 December 2018. 
  12. "Archived copy". Retrieved 1 December 2018. 
  13. "Archived copy". Retrieved 1 December 2018. 
  14. "Archived copy". Retrieved 1 December 2018. 
  15. "Passenger flights return to Carlisle airport after 25 years". BBC News. 4 March 2019. Retrieved 4 March 2019. 
  16. "Collapsed Flybe: 'Do not travel to the airport'". BBC News Online. 5 March 2020. 
  17. "Airport Data 2018". UK Civil Aviation Authority. 7 March 2019. Tables 12.1(XLS) and 12.2 (XLS). Retrieved 7 March 2019.