DfT publishes disappointing consultation on night flight regime at Heathrow, Gatwick & Stansted

The long awaited consultation on Night flying restrictions at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted has now finally been published, for the 5 years to October 2022 (well before any new runway).  It has been delayed for 3 years. Many people whose sleep is disturbed by night flights had been hoping for real prospects of the number of night flights being reduced. However, the consultation (that ends on 28th February) merely suggests keeping the numbers of flights between 23:30 and 06:00 the same at Heathrow and Gatwick, but increasing the number at Stansted. [“Night” is defined as 2300-0700 local time]. At Heathrow the number would remain at 2,550 in the winter and 3,250 in the summer (seasons based on dates the clocks change to/from summer time). That is an annual total of 5,800 which averages as 16 per night through the year. The figure at Gatwick is 3,250 in the winter and 11,200 in the summer, making an annual total of 14,450 which averages as 40 per night through the year. However, the DfT proposes reducing the total noise quota (points based on the noise of planes at night) at Heathrow Airport by at least 43% in the winter and 50% in the summer, ie. a reduction of at least 1,740 in the winter to 2,340 (from 4080) and 2,560 in the summer to 2,540 (from 5100).  The cut in quota count at Gatwick would be 17% in winter and 21% in summer., ie. a reduction of at least 345 in the winter to 1655 (from 2000) and 1,330 in the summer to 4870 (from 6200). 


Government misses opportunity to reduce night flights at Heathrow, Gatwick or Stansted

Comment by the AEF (Aviation Environment Federation)

The Government has published its proposals for changes to the night flights regime for Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted, the only three airports in the UK at which the Government imposes noise controls. The Government sets caps on the number of aircraft movements and on the total permitted ‘quota count’ (QC) both of which can act to limit night noise.

Under the quota count system, each aircraft is given a score based on its noise performance, and the total amount of noise in a given period is capped, so more flights may be possible if airlines use less noisy aircraft. Currently all three airports use well below their permitted ‘quota counts’, with the exception of Stansted which has crept closer and closer to the limit in recent years. While the latest proposals would reduce the quota count limits for Heathrow and Stansted compared to current limits, the new limits would largely take up the existing slack in the system rather than driving down future noise. For Stansted, the Government proposes no change to the existing noise quotas.

For movement limits, the proposals are to retain, rather than reduce, the permitted number of flights at Heathrow and Gatwick, and to increase them at Stansted. The justification given is that the parallel proposal of a reduction in the noise threshold at which aircraft are covered by the regime, which will reduce the number of exempt aircraft, means that an increased number of movements needs to be permitted for Stansted in order to achieve an effective flatline. More significantly, the Government says it does not wish to prejudge the outcome of Stansted’s anticipated application for planning permission to increase passenger numbers by imposing noise controls that would prevent this.

AEF reaction

We are deeply disappointed by the Government’s lack of ambition to get to grips with the night noise problem at London airports. Our members often tell us that the number of overflying aircraft they experience at night is a real problem, regardless of the marginal improvements in the noise performance of individual aircraft that have taken place over time. A growing body of evidence indicates that night noise has harmful effects not only in terms of annoyance but also increased risk of cardiovascular disease, strokes and heart attacks. Noise at airports around the UK remains persistently above the maximum levels recommended for health by the World Health Organisation. The Government has also retained its definition of the operational night noise period as 6.5 hours, 90 minutes less than the standard definition used by the WHO.

We are also disappointed that the long-overdue study that the Government has been undertaking in relation to possible changes in the public experience of noise annoyance, and which we had hoped to be able to consider alongside this proposal, has still not been published. Research over the past decade from a number of countries indicates a significant decrease in the noise threshold at which people report disturbance, with Defra having found in recent years that as many as 1 in 3 people in the UK are disturbed or annoyed by aircraft noise. The proposals published today appear designed largely to reset noise limits to match current levels: a policy that falls a long way short of the action required to tackle this problem.

Industry demands take precedence over public health

We are particularly concerned that the Government appears unwilling to prioritise action to protect public health over the incessant demand for growth from the aviation industry. The limits set for Stansted have been explicitly designed not to ‘pre-empt’ any possible application by the airport for permission to grow its passenger numbers.

In relation to Heathrow, as the proposed regime ends in 2022, it can offer no comfort that an expanded Heathrow will not bring further noise misery. Heathrow Airport itself last year offered the sweetener that if given planning permission to expand, it could provide a 6.5 hour night flight ban even before the runway became operational , suggesting that a ban could be deliverable now without crippling the airport, if only the Government had the will to impose it.


Stop Stansted Expansion says DfT plans on night flights do not go nearly far enough

Following the publication of the DfT’s night flight regulation consultation, SSE is urging urging local district, parish and town councils and individual local residents to respond, to try to get the noise impacts of Stansted night-time flights reduced. Stansted currently has permission for 12,000 night flights a year, more than twice as many as are permitted at Heathrow. The 12,000 annual limit applies only to the 6½ hours from 11.30pm to 6.00am whereas the normal definition of ‘night’ is the 8 hours from 11.00pm to 7.00am. Moreover, a large number of Stansted’s night flights are large, noisy cargo aircraft, many of which are very old. Unsurprisingly, these give rise to a disproportionately high level of noise complaints. SSE welcomes the DfT intention to allow the same number of Stansted night flights over the next 5 years, but removing the current exemption for less noisy aircraft and adjusting the movements limit accordingly. The number of exempt aircraft has been increasing at Stansted, and they need to be included in totals. SSE wants an unequivocal Government commitment to phase out all night flights at Stansted by 2030, except in the case of genuine emergencies. SSE also wants the annual flight limit to apply, not just from 11.30pm to 6.00am, but from 11.00pm to 7.00am, so that ‘night’ truly means ‘night’.

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Row erupts over night flight plans for London airports



Plans to cut noise from night flights over London will make “little difference” to the lives of residents, campaigners have warned.

A public consultation has been launched [by the DfT] setting out the government’s proposed new measures, which will see the cuts achieved through the use of quieter aircraft with no change to the number of flights.

Current restrictions at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted are due to expire in October 2017 and the new rules, put forward by the Department for Transport, would last for the next five years up until 2022. [The previous regime, from 2013, ends this October. ]

The DfT says it hopes to balance the economic benefits offered by night flights with the cost they have on communities.

However John Stewart of campaign group Hacan, which opposes a new runway at Heathrow, said while he wasn’t hopeful of any significant changes until a decision on the runway is settled, local residents would be “very disappointed” with the plans, adding they would make “little difference”.

He said: “My initial thoughts are that residents under the Heathrow flight path will be very disappointed. “Their early morning wake-up call remains the first flight at 4.30am.  The next few years will be exactly the same as the last few years.”

Mr Stewart added that the group would be campaigning for no flights before 6am during consultation on Heathrow expansion.

Aviation Minister Lord Ahmad said: “This government is committed to tackling the issue of aircraft noise, especially flights at night.

“Night flights are, however, important to the economy, creating extra choice for passengers and moving freight, and we need to carefully balance the needs of local communities with the benefits these flights can bring.”

The consultation will run until February 28, after which responses will be reviewed and a final decision on night flights published.

It will not cover the period in which a proposed new runway at Heathrow would be operational.

Any ban on night flights at an expanded Heathrow would be consulted on separately.



The DfT Consultation document on night flights

Consultation document at


The Summary of this document states: 


Summary of Proposals

8.  We propose an environmental objective to encourage the use of quieter aircraft to limit or reduce the number of people significantly affected by aircraft noise at night, while maintaining the existing benefits of night flights. In order to achieve this, we propose to:

Set a five year regime until October 2022, but, if there are appropriate opportunities to do so before this date, allow more bespoke arrangements to be made that reflect specific local circumstances. The Government will provide further details on how such restrictions might be set, and Government’s role in setting these, in its upcoming consultation on airspace policy.

Create a new noise category to capture the majority of aircraft that are currently exempt from the night flight restrictions, and ensure all currently exempt aircraft count towards an airport’s movement limit. This will provide more certainty to communities about how much noise they can expect to be exposed to and provide greater transparency about how many flights are allowed to take place.

Make no changes to the movement limits for Heathrow or Gatwick.

In order to maintain the current situation at Stansted, adjust Stansted’s movement limits to reflect that movements by currently exempt aircraft will now count towards the movement limits. Unlike at Heathrow or Gatwick, currently exempt aircraft represent a significant portion of Stansted’s total movements. The uplift will be based on the number of these flights in the most recent winter and summer seasons – 600 and 1,100 respectively. This will ensure that the existing benefits of night flights are maintained, while also allowing Stansted to make use of the existing spare movements within its limits. This adjustment in combination with ending an exempt category of aircraft for movements, will provide communities around Stansted with more certainty on the number of night flights that are allowed to take place.

Set all three airports’ noise quotas at a level which incentivises the use of quieter aircraft. We outline possible options for this in Chapter 3, but final levels will be decided once we have taken account of any relevant evidence received through this consultation.

13.  This consultation document is divided into 4 chapters.

The first chapter of the document provides background on the night flight restrictions and how the current regime was set. It also summarises the developments with regards to airport capacity that have taken place since the restrictions were last reviewed, and the current situation at each airport.

14.  The second chapter considers environmental objectives for the next regime and the effect other measures identified under the Balanced Approach will have on the noise climate around these airports in the coming years.

15. The third chapter covers our specific proposals for the next regime, in relation to the structure of the regime and the movement and noise quota limits at each airport.

16. The final chapter provides a brief summary of the anticipated effects of our proposals at all three airports. More detailed analysis is available in the noise contours included at Annex F and the impact assessment published alongside this consultation.




The section on Heathrow says:

1.28.  Restrictions on night flights have been in place at Heathrow since 1962. Heathrow is currently limited to 5,800 night flights a year – 3,250 in the summer season and 2,550 in the winter season. This equates to approximately 16 flights per night.

1.29.  In addition to the movement limits imposed by the Government, Heathrow also has a voluntary ban in place that sees no flights scheduled between 2330 and 0430 and prevents flights scheduled between 0430 and 0600 from landing before 0430. All scheduled night movements are therefore early morning arrivals between 0430 and 0600, mostly from destinations in the Far East. These scheduled early morning arrivals make up about 87% of all the night flights that take place, with unscheduled late running flights after 2330 the remainder. Heathrow are currently taking action to reduce the number of late running arrivals as part of their blueprint for noise reduction 22 . [22 Heathrow Airport Ltd (2016) ‘Heathrow’s Blueprint for noise reduction’ http://www.heathrow.com/noise/making-heathrow-quieter/our-noise-strategy/blueprint-for-noise-reduction]

1.30.  Movements at Heathrow have been stable for many years. Since the winter 2009/10 season, Heathrow has used on average 89% of its summer movement limit and 104% of its winter allowance – carrying over the unused percentage of its summer allowance as permitted under the current regime. The difference between summer and winter movements over this timeframe has been small – with an average of 2,883 movements in the summer season and 2,656 movements in the winter season. The discrepancy in allowances between the two seasons is largely based on historical factors.

1.31. While Heathrow is using close to its full allowance of movements, recent years have seen a significant reduction in the amount of noise quota usage as a result of the introduction of quieter aircraft. In the most recent summer season, Heathrow used just 45% of its noise quota compared to 91% of its available movements. Further data on night flights at Heathrow, as well as Gatwick and Stansted, is included at Annex E.

1.32.  In 2015-16 (the summer 2015 and winter 2015/16 seasons), there were approximately 105,000 people exposed to noise levels of at least 48 dB LAeq 6.5hr night between 2330 and 0600. While this number is much higher than at Gatwick or Stansted, there have been noticeable improvements in recent years – with the current population representing a 20% reduction since 2011-12 and even larger reductions since 2002-03. Contour maps for Heathrow, along with Gatwick and Stansted, for 2015-16 are included at Annex F. Contour maps for all three airports for previous years are included at Annex B to the previous Stage One Consultation document from 2013. [https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/66848/annexes.pdf]

and there are similar sections on Gatwick (page 16 onwards) and Stansted (page 18 onwards)

Proposal – Noise Quota Limits Heathrow and Gatwick

3.22.  Both Heathrow and Gatwick are using proportionately less of their noise quota limits than their movement limits. For instance, in the summer 2016 season, Heathrow used 91% of its movement limit, but only 45% of its noise quota. For Gatwick the figures were 101% and 79% respectively – based on limits before the carryover and overrun provisions were applied.

3.23.  As the current restrictions stand therefore, there is little to incentivise the use of quieter aircraft nor to prevent an airline from replacing an aircraft operating a route with a noisier one.

We therefore propose, that as a minimum, both airports’ noise quotas are reduced to reflect the level of current noise quota usage. The reductions would be:

• For Heathrow, a reduction of at least 1,740 in the winter to 2,340 and 2,560 in the summer to 2,540.

• For Gatwick, a reduction of at least 345 in the winter to 1655 and 1,330 in the summer to 4870.

3.24.  These new quotas are based on the average noise quota per movement at both airports in the most recent summer and winter seasons, multiplied by the movement limits [Since movements by exempt aircraft do not currently count towards the movement limits at these airports, these movements were not included in these calculations.]. This will therefore ensure that, on average, movements at either of these two airports would not use more noise quota than at present, if an airport wants to utilise its full movement limit.

3.25. We think these values should act as starting points for the noise quota limits for the next regime. In order to incentivise the use of quieter aircraft, the Government will consider whether there could be further gradual reductions over the course of the regime. For instance at Heathrow and Gatwick, it is possible for the quota to be set at 100% of the noise quota we propose above in year 1 of the regime, 95% of this amount in year two, ending at 80% of this amount in year 5.

3.26.  Our impact assessment published alongside this consultation assesses the impacts of a hypothetical reduction of 20% over five years as outlined above, and we will take into account responses to the consultation and any relevant evidence that is submitted by stakeholders before deciding on the optimal, but realistic, reduction at each airport.

… and there is a separate section on Stansted. (Page 37)

The quota count figures for Heathrow are copied below (the equivalent for Gatwick are on page 53 and for Stansted on page 54)

The DfT proposes cutting the Heathrow quota numbers • For Heathrow, a reduction of at least 1,740 in the winter to 2,340 (from 4080) and 2,560 in the summer to 2,540 (from 5100).  [The limit for winter seems in line with the reductions being achieved annually – but for the summer, the number is higher than that achieved in 2016, so giving scope for yet more noise. Hardly a challenging target.  AW comment]

We therefore propose that the current movement limits for Heathrow remain the same for the next regime. These are 2,550 in the winter and 3,250 in the summer.

We therefore propose that the current movement limits for Gatwick remain the same for the next regime. These are 3,250 in the winter and 11,200 in the summer.

Therefore, to maintain the benefits of night flights at Stansted, we propose that the movement limits are uplifted to reflect the number of exempt aircraft already in operation. This would entail:
• An increase of 600 movements in the winter season from 5,000 to 5,600
• An increase of 1,100 movements in the summer season from 7,000 to 8,100


The amount of quota used at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted in recent years

Heathrow used (Summer 2014) 3242 of its 5100 total   (new total 2540)

Heathrow used (Summer 2015) 2847 of its 5100 total

Heathrow used (Summer 2016) 2304 of its 5100 total   (ie. under the new total)


Heathrow used (Winter 2013) 3070  of its 4080 total   (new total 2340)

Heathrow used (Winter 2014) 2939  of its 4080 total

Heathrow used (Winter 2015) 2475  of its 4080 total  (ie. not hard to reach new total)




Gatwick used (Summer 2014) 4943 of its 6200 total   (new total  4870)

Gatwick used (Summer 2015) 4765 of its 6200 total

Gatwick used (Summer 2016) 4912 of its 6200 total  (so not hard to meet new total)


Gatwick used (Winter 2013) 828  of its 2000 total   (new total 1655)

Gatwick used (Winter 2014) 852  of its 2000 total

Gatwick used (Winter 2015) 953  of its 2000 total (so new total is far higher than use – the reason for the massive discrepancy is not clear)


Stansted used (Summer 2014) 4261 of its 4650 total   (new total  4650 – unchanged)

Stansted used (Summer 2015) 4085 of its 4650 total

Stansted used (Summer 2016) 4630 of its 4650 total


Stansted used (Winter 2013)  2158  of its 3310 total   (new total 3310 – unchanged)

Stansted used (Winter 2014) 2205  of its 3310 total

Stansted used (Winter 2015) 2234  of its  3310 total


The consultation questions:

Annex A: Full list of consultation questions
Q1a. How strongly do you agree or disagree with our proposed environmental
objective for the next regime?

Q1b. Do you have any additional comments on our proposed environmental
objective for the next regime?

Q2a. How strongly do you agree or disagree with our proposal for the length of
the next regime?

Q2b. Do you have any additional comments on our proposal for the length of
the regime?

Q3a. How strongly do you agree or disagree with our proposal to introduce a
new QC/0.125 category for aircraft between 81 and 83.9 EPNdB?

Q3b. How strongly do you agree or disagree with our proposal for all aircraft
quieter than this to remain QC/0 but count towards the airports movement

Q3c. Do you have any additional comments on proposals for the Quota Count

Q4a. How strongly do you agree or disagree with the proposal for movement
limits to remain unchanged at Heathrow?

Q4b. Do you have any additional comments on our proposal for Heathrow’s
movement limit?

Q5a. How strongly do you agree or disagree with the proposal for movement
limits to remain unchanged at Gatwick?

Q5b. Do you have any additional comments on our proposal for Gatwick’s
movement limit?

Q6a. How strongly do you agree or disagree with the proposal to raise
Stansted’s movement limits to reflect the current number of exempt aircraft in

Q6b. Do you have any additional comments on our proposal for Stansted’s
movement limit?

Q7a. How strongly do you agree or disagree with our proposals to encourage
the use of quieter aircraft at Heathrow?

Q7b. Do you have any additional comments on how you feel noise quotas can
best be set in order to encourage the use of quieter aircraft at Heathrow?
Q8a. How strongly do you agree or disagree with our proposals to encourage
the use of quieter aircraft at Gatwick?

Q8b. Do you have any additional comments on how you feel noise quotas can
best be set in order to encourage the use of quieter aircraft at Gatwick?

Q9a. How strongly do you agree or disagree with our proposals to encourage
the use of quieter aircraft at Stansted?

Q9b. Do you have any additional comments on how you feel noise quotas can
best be set in order to encourage the use of quieter aircraft at Stansted?

Q10. Do you have any further views on our proposals, or their potential impact
on the Government’s ability to fulfil the requirements of the Public Sector
Equality Duty?**

Where possible, responses to these questions and those included within our impact
assessment should be submitted using the response form available at


** The public sector Equality Duty ( PSED ) requires public bodies to have due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination, advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations between different people when carrying out their activities.




Restrictions on UK ‘night flights’ at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted extended until 2017

In the Government’s response to the Airports Commission’s December 2013 interim report, Patrick McLoughlin announced that plans to more than double the number of ‘night flights’ at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted airports have been postponed until 2017. Under proposals outlined in the Commission’s interim report the number of planes allowed to land at the airport before 6am each day would have increased from 16 to 35 from 2015. The government now says it wants to ensure “regulatory stability” at south east airports while the Commission makes its final recommendations on which airport should be recommended to be allowed to build a new runway. The government is also extending the ban on “rare movements made by older noisier types of aircraft.” McLoughlin said: “This decision will help give certainty around the night noise environment for those living near the airports, as well as ensuring operational capacity at these airports is not affected pending decisions on any new airport capacity in light of the commission’s final report.” The government has also postponed the Commission’s recommendation for an Independent Aviation Noise Authority.   


Gatwick has more night flights than Heathrow or Stansted – and that will continue for next 5 years

The Government Department for Transport (DfT) has released the long awaited night flight consultation documents (ends 28th February). The number of flights between 23:00 and 07.00 would not be reduced. The current number, and the one proposed for the next 5 years, is 3,250 in the winter and 11,200 in the summer, making an annual total of 14,450 which averages as 40 per night through the year. There will be a slight reduction in the quota count, as it is not being used – so the new figure will not change anything. This will be a reduction of at least 345 in the winter to 1655 [from 2000] and 1,330 in the summer to 4870 [from 6200]. Local campaign group CAGNE has commented about how unsatisfactory the proposals for Gatwick are. Sally Pavey, Chair of CAGNE said: “We would like to see a total ban on Gatwick night flights as this is a major cause of complaints we receive from communities. Summer nights especially when residents want to enjoy their gardens and have windows open on hot evenings.” CAGNE says it is regrettable that the government seems to “accept the economic case over the health implications of allowing night flights to continue.” Gatwick plans to continue to grow at perhaps 10% per year, meaning continually increasing noise.

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Comment from Gatwick Area Conservation Campaign on night flights plan – same number but less noise

New rules for night flights for the next five years have been announced by the Government. Chairman of GACC, Brendon Sewill, said: “Gatwick has more night flights than any other London airport. We are disappointed that there is to be virtually no reduction in the number of flights. People across Britain are kept awake by aircraft and there is growing evidence that this has a serious impact on health, so GACC’s aim is to see a ban on all night flights.” GACC, however, welcomes and supports the suggestion by the DfT that the permitted level of noise at night (the noise quota) at Gatwick may be cut by 20% over the next five years. That will not only have an obvious advantage but it will force airlines to buy and to use quieter aircraft – and that will also have a benefit during the day. But we need to ensure the aviation industry does not try to weaken this restriction. GACC welcomes the proposal to reduce the noise quotas to the current level of use: that will not make any difference to the current situation but will prevent a potential sizeable increase in future years. It is something that GACC has argued for in the past. GACC will be consulting its members on its detailed response to the consultation and welcomes their views.

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Government to make no significant change to night flights regime at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted until Airports Commission report

In January 2013 the DfT put out the first part of its consultation on the night flight regime at the UK’s 3 designated airports, Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted. The DfT said then that the 2nd consultation would be published later this year, to include specific proposals for the new regime, such as the number of permitted night flights – informed by the evidence from the first consultation. The DfT has now published this 2nd stage, but instead of any specific measures, it proposes no significant change to the night flight regime at Heathrow until 2017. It says it does not want to pre-empt the findings of the Airports Commission which is due to publish its final report in summer 2015. It gives the impression of passing the buck to Sir Howard Davies. The current night flight regime for the 3 airports ends in October 2014. Normally a new regime is put in place to cover the next 5 – 6 years. This time the Government has decided in effect to roll-over the existing regime until 2017. The only change for Heathrow is a proposal “to extend the operational ban on the noisiest types of aircraft to include an extra half hour, the 23.00-23.30 period.   


DfT announces start of 3 month consultation on night flight regime at Heathrow, Gatwick & Stansted

The government has begun a 3 month consultation into night flights at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted Airports. It is calling for views and evidence on “the effectiveness of the current regime, the costs and benefits of future options and airlines’ fleet replacement plans”. The consultation closes on 22nd April 2013. Transport Minister Simon Burns says: “This consultation includes a review of current evidence on the costs of night flights, particularly noise, and the benefits of these flights. It sets out our thinking on how we would expect to appraise the policy options for the next night flights regime.” The government will  publish the 2nd consultation later this year. It will include specific proposals for the new regime, such as the number of permitted night flights. The proposals in the 2nd consultation will be informed by the evidence received from this 1st stage consultation. The Dft says it aims to strike “a fair balance between the interests of those affected by the noise disturbance and those of the airports, passengers and the UK economy.”
see also

Heathrow residents disappointed there is still no night flight ban in the Dft consultation

January 22, 2013

Commenting on the publication today of the DfT’s consultation into a new night flight regime at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted, HACAN (the Heathrow Association for the Control of Aircraft Noise) said is was disappointed that the Government has still not committed itself to a night flight ban. However, they have welcomed the fact that the Government is prepared to look at measures which could mitigate the noise. These include increasing the angle of descent on approach; guaranteed respite periods; changing the existing scheduling or operating bans which affect the noisiest aircraft types. John Stewart, Chair of HACAN, which represents residents under the Heathrow flight paths, said: “We are very clear that we want a ban on night flights before 6 o’clock and a progressive reduction between 6am and 7am. Many people under the Heathrow flight paths don’t need an alarm clock; the first plane wakes them at 4.30 am.”

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