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Night flights

We appreciate that noise created at night can cause greater disturbance to people. It is generally quieter at night and the majority of people are trying to sleep. Also, night noise may seem worse in the summer, when people are more likely to sleep with windows open.

Although there is not a ban on flights at night, since the 1960s, the Government has been placing restrictions on night flights. There are no scheduled flights between 11pm and 4:30am. The airport is currently very tightly restricted by the Government in terms of the numbers of planes that can land during these sensitive times. The Government consult on the rules every 5 years and it’s their job to balance the economic benefits of night flights with the social impacts. The Government are due to review these restrictions in 2016 in preparation of a new regime commencing in 2017.

Number of flights at night

Between 11:30pm and 6am Heathrow is restricted by the Government to 5,800 night-time take-offs and landings a year. There is also a night quota limit, which caps the amount of noise the airport can make at night. Around 80% of the night flights at Heathrow are between 4.30-6am with on average around 16 aircraft are scheduled to arrive each day between these hours. Heathrow also has a voluntary ban in place that prevents flights scheduled between 4:30am-6am from landing before 4:30am. We also do not schedule any departures between 11pm and 6am.

Government restrictions

It is the Department of Transport (DfT) that sets restrictions on the amount of noise that airports can make at night. It limits the number of planes that can take off and land between 11:30pm and 6am. It also sets a weekly rotation of westerly and easterly operations. So at night, when there is little or no wind, one week arrivals are from the west, and the next they are from the east.

Every five years, the DfT carries out a consultation on its night flying restrictions. Its current decision paper was published in July 2014, and will remain in effect until 2017.

How the restrictions work

Planes are classified into seven bands according to the amount of noise they make when taking off and landing – the noisier the plane, the higher the band it is placed in. These bands are called quota counts (QC). Every plane is given a QC number between QC0.5 -QC16

  • Between 11pm and 7am, planes in the two highest bands (QC8 and QC16) cannot be scheduled to take off or land.
  • Between 11:30pm and 6am, planes in the three highest bands (QC4, QC8 and QC16) cannot be scheduled to take off or land.

A figure for the total amount of noise is calculated by multiplying the number of plane movements in each QC band of noise. This total amount of noise figure is capped by the Government.

We encourage airlines to make less noise before 6am by charging them much lower landing charges if they use their quieter planes then.

Compliance with night noise restrictions

We aim to comply with the night noise restrictions in place, and report regularly to the Government and the HACC (an independent consultative committee made up of local government, business and interest group representatives).

However, there are occasions when a scheduled departure is unavoidably delayed because of operational or technical problems.

  • If a flight needs to leave after 11:30pm for these reasons, the airline must request permission and explain the reason for the delay.
  • Where weather conditions – such as a heavy snowfall – causes widespread disruption, the government can give dispensation for additional night flights. These are in exceptional circumstances only, such as emergencies, delays which are likely to lead to serious congestion at the airport or serious hardship or suffering to passengers which result in prolonged disruption of air traffic.

Impact of noise restrictions

The rules and incentives in place mean airlines are increasingly using their quietest planes on early morning routes. Average noise per take-off and landing has already fallen by 20%. And with more airlines introducing the significantly quieter A380 to their fleets, we expect this trend to continue.

Why we have night flights

Night flying restrictions need to strike a balance between protecting the local community from too much night noise and the benefits night flights generate for the UK economy.

Early morning long-haul flights are an important part of operations at an international hub airport like Heathrow. Half the planes arriving at Heathrow at night are from Southeast Asia. Because of the time difference, there is a demand from business people wanting to work the next day, or to catch a connecting flight.