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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.

There is no formal ban on night flights at Heathrow but since the 1960s, the Government has placed restrictions on them. Heathrow has some of the strictest restrictions of any hub airport in Europe in terms of movements permitted between 11:30pm and 6:00am. Heathrow is restricted to 5,800 take-offs and landings a year during these times.

Around 80% of the night flights at Heathrow are between 4:30am and 6:00am, with on average around 16 aircraft scheduled to arrive each day between these hours. Heathrow also has a voluntary ban in place that prevents flights from landing before 4:30am. There is also a night quota limit, which caps the amount of noise the airport can make at night.

Why do we have night flights?

Night flights are an important part of operations at airports around the world. The time differences in an inter-connected global transport system mean that it is difficult to avoid flights at night and early in the morning. An early morning arrival means a full day’s business can take place for some passengers while others may transfer onto a connecting flight at Heathrow.

Transfer passengers play an important role in maintaining the range and frequency of destinations served by Heathrow by feeding other flights. Independent studies have shown that night flights make a significant contribution to the UK economy.

Night flight restrictions

Restrictions on night flights have been in place at Heathrow since 1962 and the structure of the current night flying restrictions at Heathrow has been in place since October 2017. The night flight restrictions are part of the Government defined noise measures under the Civil Aviation Act 1982.

Overview of restrictions:

  • There are two time periods: 11:00pm–7:00am and 11:30pm–6:00am both with restrictions on certain types of aircraft;
  • The more restrictive period (11:30pm–6:00am) is known as the Night Quota Period (NQP) and has limits on the number of movements which are set by the DfT. The limits are set on a seasonal basis: summer and winter;/li>
  • Heathrow is currently limited to 5,800 night flights a year: 3,250 in the summer season and 2,550 in the winter season;
  • Heathrow is also permitted to carry over up to 10% of the ‘left over’ movements from summer to winter, which means the winter season limits vary more than the summer limits. The summer season is defined using British Summer Time. Heathrow is not permitted to accumulate the carry-over from one year to the next.

What time do flights currently operate during the night at Heathrow?

At Heathrow we do not have any scheduled departures between 10:50pm and 6:00am or scheduled arrivals between 11:05pm and 4:45am. This means that there are no scheduled flights after 11:05pm and before 4:45am.

Heathrow also has an arrangement with its airlines that any planes scheduled to arrive from 4:45am will not land on the runway before 4:30am.

Over 90% of all the scheduled movements that operate during the night quota period are early morning arrivals and the majority of these are scheduled to arrive after 5am.

In addition, Heathrow does not have any scheduled freight flights in the night quota period (11:30pm to 6am).

Unscheduled night flights

Sometimes planes need to operate in the night period when they have not been scheduled to do so. This could be for a number of reasons such as delays that have built up during the day or for a technical fault with an aircraft that needs to be repaired.

There is always a delicate balance to be struck as to whether a flight should be allowed at night, considering the effects on local communities, passengers and the airline network.

Today we use a mixture of quota count and movement limits to control unscheduled nights flights.

The quota count

The quota count system has been in place at Heathrow since 1993 and applies to all the major London airports.

Each plane has a number of points based on how noisy it is; the noisier the plane – the higher the number of points. If a plane lands or takes off during the night quota period (11:30pm-6am), its points count towards a limit based on whether it’s operating during the summer or winter period.

The night quota count system is designed to discourage the use of noisier older planes and encourage the use of quieter newer planes. No plane with a very high score (the oldest and noisiest) is allowed to take off or land during the night quota period.

The movement limit

There is also a movement limit which restricts the total number of flights that can take place in the night quota period over each summer and winter period.

How the quota count and movement limit work together

The movement limit and quota count restrictions work together to make sure the overall number of night flights are limited and that the quietest planes are used:

  • If newer quieter planes are used their night quota scores will be low – but the total number will be restricted by the movement limit.
  • If noisier aircraft are used their night quota scores will be high and their number will be restricted by the quota count limit.

The quota count combined with the movement limit ensure the total number of night flights are restricted at Heathrow and the use of the quietest planes is encouraged.

Compliance with night noise restrictions

We aim to comply with the night noise restrictions in place, and report regularly to the Government and the Heathrow Community Engagement Board (HCEB).

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 – cause 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.

Airspace and Future Operations consultation (January – March 2019)

We are currently consulting on our proposals to introduce a scheduled night flight ban at an expanded Heathrow in the future. For more information and to have your say, visit the Heathrow consultation website www.heathrowconsultation.com.