The public inquiry into plans to extend the runway at George Best Belfast City Airport is set to be pushed back due to a row over noise pollution.
The independent Planning Appeals Commission (PAC) - commissioned by the Stormont government to investigate the controversial £8M scheme - is refusing to schedule it until it is given further information from the airport.
The PAC believes the airport’s Environmental Statement (ES) on the possible impact of the 600m extension is deficient, not containing sufficient information about how noise levels would be affected if heavier planes could take off and land.
While the Government’s Planning Service admits that the ES is incomplete, it insists the statement is full enough to meet regulations.
It claims the inquiry should proceed, with the airport providing additional information during the hearings, but the PAC has stood its ground.
“Since March the Commission has been corresponding with the Department about this major planning application,” a statement on its website said.
“The Commission is unable to arrange the requested Public Inquiry as the information on third party representations is incomplete and it has asked the Department to address the adequacy of the Environmental Information about the application.”
A Planning Service spokeswoman said officials were considering their position.
The proposal to lengthen the runway would enable planes with heavier fuel loads to use the airport, thus opening up the possibility of flights to and from further afield destinations in Europe.
But the planning application, which was first lodged in November 2008, has been fiercely opposed by some local residents living around the east Belfast facility who claim noise pollution levels will soar.
Earlier this year environment minister Edwin Poots set up the public inquiry to examine the contentious issue.
Airport bosses have warned that further delays over the decision may risk major investments planned by international airlines.