Ban on scheduled night flights*

Night flights are an important part of operations at airports around the world. The differences in time zones at the origin and destinations of flights mean that it is difficult to avoid flights at night and early in the morning.

*This page contains one (1) question located within the “Have your say” section at the bottom of the page.

A high proportion of long haul flights arrive in the early morning and allow onward connecting flights both to key domestic routes and strategically important global routes. Early morning flights have important economic benefits for the UK. Late evening flights are also important to freight operators, airlines and businesses across the UK due to the nature of their ‘just in time’ overnight operations.

 

Currently there is no ban on night flights at Heathrow, but there are restrictions on the type of aircraft that can be scheduled and operated from 23:00 to 07:00 (the ‘Night Period’) and there is then a more restrictive period from 23:30 hrs to 06:00 hrs (the ‘Night Quota Period’) which has no scheduled ban but has limits on the total number of movements and quota count points which are set by the Department for Transport – effectively we can operate more aircraft if they are quieter, fewer if they are noisier. These are some of the strongest restrictions on night flights of any hub airport in Europe.

What is the quota count?

The quota count system, set by Government, 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 (23:30 to 06:00 hrs), 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.

What is the movement limit?

The movement limit restricts the total number of flights that can take place in the Night Quota Period over each summer and winter period.

We also operate a voluntary commitment of no scheduled departures between 22:50 hrs and 06:00 hrs or scheduled arrivals between 23:05 hrs and 04:45 hrs. This means that there are no scheduled flights after 23:05 hrs and before 04:45.

What are we proposing?

We propose a ban on scheduled night flights from 23:00 to 05:30, using only one runway for the early morning arrivals, which will provide each community with at least 7 hours’ respite between 22:00 hrs and 07:00 hrs.

Airports National Policy Statement

The Airports NPS sets out the need for a ban on scheduled night flights. Scheduled flight times are the time you see on your ticket. Sometimes flights have to depart or arrive outside their scheduled times due to special circumstances – we explain this in the ‘Recovery Period’ section below.

The Airports National Policy Statement sets out the Government’s expectation that with expansion we should have a 6.5 hour ban on scheduled night flights between the hours of 23:00 hrs and 07:00 hrs.

We have always agreed that a ban on scheduled night flights is necessary to control the possible noise and other effects of expansion. We have carried out an assessment of different options for the proposed night flight ban to determine the right length and the right start and finish times. You can see this assessment and a description of the process we have followed in the Updated Scheme Development Report.

The Airports NPS sets out the need for a ban on scheduled night flights. Scheduled flight times are the time you see on your ticket. Sometimes flights have to depart or arrive outside their scheduled times due to special circumstances – we explain this in the ‘Recovery Period’ section.

‘Scheduled’ flights

It is important to understand the difference between the scheduled time (the times shown on arrival and departure boards) and the time planes arrive or depart from the runway.

Using arrivals as an example:

  • The scheduled time of an arrival is the time that the plane reaches the airport stand (when the plane stops at the terminal gate and you get off).
  • The runway time is the time the plane touches down on the runway.

Today, there is approximately 15 minutes between the plane touching down on the runway and it taxiing to the airport stand (although this will vary between flights and times of the day).

It is the same for departures, the scheduled time is the time the plane will push back from the gate and the runway time will be approximately 15 minutes later when it takes off.

Early morning arrivals

We are proposing that we will only use one runway for the early morning arrivals scheduled from 05:30 hrs when the scheduled night flight ban ends. The runway used will change each morning in line with our alternation proposals.

 

The other two runways will not become operational until 06:00 hrs.

We consulted on the question of the early morning arrivals in our Airspace and Future Operations Consultation in January 2019. We asked whether we should:

  • schedule flights from 05.30 hrs using one runway, which is an earlier start but by only using one runway, fewer people would be overflown, or
  • schedule flights from 05.45 hrs using two runways, which is a slightly later start but means more people would be overflown.

Feedback from previous consultations

A majority of those who expressed their view preferred the earlier 05:30 hrs start using one runway. We agree that this produces a better result and have taken this forward in the timings of our proposed ban on scheduled night flights and our proposals for runway alternation.

We also propose that the current ‘Quota Count’ system for aircraft operating before 06:00 hrs will remain in place. This will mean that there will be a movement limit on the total number of aircraft that can operate before 06:00 hrs and a total quota count limit to encourage the use of quieter aircraft across the whole period from 23:00 hrs. We also propose to set out specific limits applicable to just the 05:30 hrs to 06:00 hrs period as part of our proposals for a ‘noise envelope’.

As a further restriction we will also propose a quota count limit for the 06:00 hrs to 07:00 hrs period (but not a movement limit) as part of our proposals for a noise envelope.

Recovery periods

Sometimes flights 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, perhaps due to bad weather or due to a technical fault with an aircraft that needs to be repaired.

There is always a 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. Having a recovery period allows Heathrow to reduce the potential for aircraft to be diverted to other airports as well as the knock-on effects to our passengers, who may be required to stay overnight until the next available flight, and the airline network.

We are proposing to change the way we manage aircraft if they are delayed into the night period to impose stricter rules than we have today for what we refer to as the ‘recovery period’. We are proposing to have the following recovery periods at Heathrow during the night period using one runway each for:

Departures from 23:00 hrs until midnight (1 hour of recovery time beyond the last possible scheduled departure time); and

Arrivals from 23:00 until 23:30 hrs (30 minutes of recovery time beyond the last possible scheduled arrival time) Late-running aircraft would not be permitted to arrive after 23:30 hrs or depart after 00:00 hrs (midnight) other than in exceptional circumstances.

As set out in relation to early morning arrivals, our proposal contains beneficial changes to the Quota Count system. Currently, between 23:30 and 06:00 there are limits not only on the type of aircraft that can operate or be scheduled to operate, but also the total number of movements permitted and sum of all the Quota Count (QC) points available.

We are proposing that the current quota count system for aircraft that operate after 23:30 remains in place but for it to start earlier from 23:00. This means that noisier aircraft would not be allowed to operate at all and that there would be an overall limit to the numbers of aircraft that can make use of the recovery period. We will work with Government to propose new lower limits that are more applicable to the period from 23:00 to midnight. We also propose that there should be overall quota count limits for the whole period of 23:00 to 07:00 which both our operations in the early morning and in the recovery period will have to observe.

Details of how the night quota regime operates today and our future proposals are set out in the Future Runway Operations document.

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