Night flights

The Night Flying Restrictions

Under Section 78 of the Civil Aviation Act 1982, the Government sets noise controls at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted Airports. With regard to night noise, the controls include restrictions on the permitted number of flights and the noisiness of the aircraft. The controls are enacted in a statutory instrument known as the “Night Flight Restrictions at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted Airports” (‘NFRs’), and these are normally reviewed every five years. The current rules came into effect in October 2006 and were intended to run for six years but were extended for a further five years, until October 2017. A summary of the current Night Flying Restrictions can be found here.

The NFRs are administered by the Department for Transport (‘DfT’) who, in January 2017, began a consultation process to seek views from the aviation industry and local communities to help it decide on the NFRs that should apply with effect from October 2017. The documents for this consultation can be found here.

How limits are set

Night flights are regulated by the Government in two main ways:
1) A limit on the number of flights allowed between 11.30 pm and 6.00 am;
2) An annual noise quota which relates partly to the number of flights and partly to the noisiness of each plane, i.e. the noisier the plane, the fewer planes are allowed, and vice versa.

The Government proposes to maintain the present night limit on aircraft movements at Stansted whilst at the same time removing the current exemption for less noisy aircraft and adjusting the movements limit accordingly. This aspect of the Government’s proposals is welcome since all aircraft movements at night – the least noisy as well as the most noisy – create noise nuisance and cause widespread sleep disturbance for local residents. In addition there are restrictions on the use of the very noisiest aircraft types at night.

Our three main concerns

  1. Stansted is presently allowed 12,000 night flights a year, more than twice as many as presently allowed at Heathrow (5,800 p.a.) and far more than either needed or justified. The 12,000 cap was set in 2006 at a time Stansted was still expanding rapidly and it was anticipated that more night flights would be needed. Stansted handled 10,475 night flights in 2016. In addition the yearly number of previously exempt aircraft has increased three-fold in the last four years to 1,700.
    SSE is calling for an unequivocal Government commitment to phase out all night flights, progressively reducing the current 12,000 annual allowance by about 1,000 flights a year, leading to a complete ban at Stansted by 2030 except in the case of genuine emergencies.
  2. When setting limits on the number night flights to be permitted, the DfT defines ‘night’ as the 6½-hour period from 11.30pm to 6.00am, whereas the normal definition of night is the 8-hour period from 11.00pm to 7.00am, as defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s Guidelines on Community Noise. This means there are no restrictions on the number of aircraft that can take-off and land during the two ‘shoulder’ periods, from 11.30pm to 11.00pm and from 6.00am to 7.00am, the very times when most people are trying to get to sleep or before they wake up. This is a particular problem at Stansted because Ryanair and easyJet seek to use their aircraft for as many hours as possible each day, with the result that these early morning and late evening ‘shoulder’ periods at Stansted are subject to very intensive use.
    We believe that ‘night’ should mean night, i.e. the full 8 hours.
  3. Aircraft are presently allowed to use reverse thrust when landing at Stansted at night. This is extremely noisy at the best of times and, in the case of Stansted, with its rural setting and low ambient levels of noise at night, the use of reverse thrust causes major disturbance.
    We believe there should be an immediate ban on aircraft using reverse thrust at night except in emergencies.

In addition SSE is calling for a radical overhaul of the current ‘averaging’ method for measuring aircraft noise so that the official Government noise statistics start to represent what people actually have to endure.

See also the Noise Matters page.

Campaigning to ensure Stansted Airport's authorised operations stay below harmful limits