6th September 2021
End Night Flights to Protect Health of Local Residents
Stansted Airport Watch (‘SAW’) has called for the health and well-being of local residents to be prioritised over economic benefits by bringing an end to night flights at Stansted Airport.
The Government states that it recognises that noise from aircraft taking-off and landing at night is often regarded by communities as the most disturbing form of airport operations. Yet the Government is proposing to continue to allow up to 13,700 nights flights a year at Stansted, an average of 37 per night between 11.30pm and 6.00am, for a further four years.
In responding to a consultation by the Department for Transport (‘DfT’) over the future arrangements for night flights at Stansted Airport, SAW has called for night flights to be phased out, starting next year.
The DfT is responsible for deciding the arrangements for night flights at Stansted and normally reviews the position every five years. The current Night Flights Restrictions (‘NFRs’) were due to be replaced by a new regime in October 2022 but the DfT has decided to extend the current Regulations until 2025. SAW opposed this extension since there has not been a proper review of the night flights regime for 15 years taking full account of up-to-date evidence and other costs associated with night flights.
SAW is urging the DfT to follow the most recent scientific advice from the World Health Organisation (‘WHO’), which found clear evidence of the adverse health impacts for local residents around airports and beneath flight paths caused by aircraft operations at night. [Note 1]
The WHO “strongly recommends” reducing aircraft noise levels below 40dB (average decibels) at night in the light of evidence that aircraft noise above these levels has adverse effects on community health.
Stansted is presently allowed 13,700 nights flights per annum, more than twice as many as permitted at Heathrow (5,800) and the DfT defines “night” as just the 6½ hours from 11.30pm to 6.00am. The normal definition of night, endorsed by the WHO, is the 8-hour period from 11.00pm to 7.00am and SAW has called upon the DfT to amend the Night Flights Restrictions to comply with this definition.
Sleep deprivation arising from aircraft noise impacts at night gives rise to fatigue and higher levels of stress and anxiety with adverse health impacts. Accumulated data from numerous studies strongly suggests that those living in the vicinity of airports have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. The elderly and those with pre-existing conditions are at higher risk from the effects of aircraft night noise.
There is also clear evidence that sleep deprivation caused by aircraft noise has an adverse effect on the cognitive development of schoolchildren who live in the vicinity of airports with night flights.
SAW’s three main priorities are:
- An unequivocal commitment to phase out all night flights at Stansted, starting next year, and with a complete ban in place by 2030, except in the case of genuine emergencies;
- The restrictions on night flights to apply, not just from 11.30pm to 6.00am, but from 11.00pm to 7.00am, so that ‘night’ truly means ‘night’, as defined by the WHO; and
- An immediate ban on all night time aircraft landings at Stansted using reverse thrust, except in the case of genuine emergencies. [Note 2]
SAW’s noise adviser Martin Peachey commented: “We are told that night flights are essential to provide economic benefits for the UK economy but many of these are holiday charter flights to Spain, Portugal, Greece and so on. It’s far from clear that these night flights benefit the UK economy and it’s even less clear why they can’t operate during the day. We should start by phasing these out.”
Martin Peachey continued: “The Government cannot continue to disregard the evidence that night flights are damaging to the health of local residents. The most recent expert scientific advice from the World Health Organisation and others is clear, and very worrying.”
Martin Peachey concluded: “There is also an economic cost of night flights. Sleep disturbance can significantly reduce the efficiency of people at work the following day and many local residents whose sleep has been disturbed will have jobs which are of vital importance to UK society and the economy.”
- The WHO Guidelines are at: https://www.euro.who.int/en/health-topics/environment-and-health/noise/environmental-noise-guidelines-for-the-european-region
- Airline pilots use reverse thrust (i.e. putting the aircraft engines into reverse) on landing in order to provide extra braking and allow the aircraft to leave the main runway on an earlier exit taxiway and thereby save time on reaching the parking stand.
- The DfT Night Flights consultation is at https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/night-flight-restrictions-at-heathrow-gatwick-and-stansted-airports-between-2022-and-2024-plus-future-night-flight-policy/night-flight-restrictions
- SAW’s response to the DfT Night Flights consultation at https://stanstedairportwatch.com/library/information-centre/night-flights/
FURTHER INFORMATION AND COMMENT