UK Government responds to London airports night noise consultation

The announced measures will be in force before a new permanent noise policy is introduced beyond 2025 

The UK Government has published its response to a consultation on proposed changes to night-time flying restrictions at London’s Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted airports. 

During the public and industry consultations, the government proposed to roll over the current night flying restrictions which involves reducing flights between the hours of 11.30pm-6.00am, designated as the night quota period. 

During this time aircraft that create more noise carry more points towards the quota, while the Department for Transport (DfT) also imposes restrictions on the number of aircraft movements allowed at the airports during different times of the year.  

London Heathrow Airport
Photo London Heathrow Airport

In addition to this proposal, it was also suggested that a complete ban on larger, four engine aircraft (designated as QC4 rated) such as the Boeing 747-400, between the night quota period should be instated. There were previously restrictions on these operations, however crews of QC4 rated aircraft could fly in the quota period if the flight was delayed.  

Each aircraft type is given a quota count (QC) based upon an individual aircraft type’s total noise impact around an airport. Those with a larger sound output, such as older aircraft or those with three or more engines, are given a higher QC number, becoming a burden on the airports’ night quota periods. 

The decision has been made that the current restrictions on night-flying be continued for a further three years, giving the government time to “develop a more meaningful evaluation of the costs and benefits of night flights” with the hope that traffic will have returned to pre-pandemic levels, enabling more realistic and accurate noise data to be used in time for a new regime to commence in October 2025. 

The second part of the proposal will also be brought into force, with some residents concerned that this will not have a big impact on noise levels, due to restrictions for QC4 rated aircraft already being in operation.    

Residents are further concerned about this change due to the increasing use of next generation aircraft such as the Airbus A350, A320neo and Boeing 787, which carry a much reduced noise footprint than older and larger types. 

According to the consultations, many individuals and community groups called for a total ban on night flights, except in exceptional circumstances.  

The second part of the consultation is continuing and will remain open until September 3, with work now underway to analyse the responses to be used to shape long-term policy proposals for the period beyond 2025.  

The government will publish a further update to night flying guidance in October next year and another consultation during 2023 during which it will set out a firm proposal for longer-term reform.