DfT decides to roll over the night flights regime for 3 more years (not 2) for Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted
The government consulted, in December 2020, on its night flights regime (closed 3rd March 2021). Part of the consultation was whether to “roll over” the current regime for the three designated airports, (Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted) for another 3 years, and it closed on 3rd March 2021. The second part is about wider night flights issues for all issues, and that closes on 3rd September 2021. The DfT has now published its “Decision Document” on the night flights regime and the designated airports. It has decided – despite pleas from numerous groups and individuals for change – not only to roll over the existing scheme, but to set this for THREE years more, rather than the two years originally proposed. The DfT says: “The restrictions will be reassessed in time for a new regime to commence in October 2025…” Airport groups at the designated airports are upset and furious. Night flight noise is probably the most hated, and the most damaging element of aircraft noise. The justifications given for night flights, about their economic necessity, are unconvincing. Sadly, people living with night flight noise from Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted will be stuck with the problem, at least until 2025
Night Flight Restrictions at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted
July 2021 is at
In this, the DfT says:
“Following this consultation and taking into account responses from industry, community groups and individuals, the following decisions have been reached. Firstly, the night noise objective and existing restrictions will be rolled over for a period of three years rather than two as originally proposed in our consultation.
A two-year rollover, which would have necessitated consultation on new proposals in 2022, would no longer provide enough time for the government to have conducted thorough research to properly inform and develop a new evidence-based night noise regime.
This is because of a change in the government’s view on the pace and trajectory of the aviation sector’s recovery.
By rolling over for three years, the extra year will allow the government to develop a more meaningful evaluation of the costs and benefits of night flights (as called for in a number of consultation responses from community groups), taking into account the effects of the pandemic and the extent and speed with which aviation demand returns.
This will enable decisions to be taken against a background of a wider evidence base, including on the negative impacts on sleep and health, against which the economic benefits of night flights have to be balanced. Some recovery is necessary to allow for research which is representative of prepandemic times, and which can therefore accurately examine the benefits of night flights, alongside how night flights at, or closer to, their normal level would impact on local communities.
Although many individuals urged the government to implement change now as skies are quieter, basing policies on a time when the UK was in full or partial lockdown and most international travel had been halted, would not be representative of future demand for aviation services and would be likely to have negative longer-term economic effects.
In reaching this decision we took into account the views of community groups and considered that it was likely that a longer extension would increase the strength of feeling expressed by consultees opposed to any extension.
Nonetheless, even considering this our decision is that time must be allowed for the sector to recover to enable an accurate analysis of the benefits of night flights and associated negative impacts for communities.
The restrictions will be reassessed in time for a new regime to commence in October 2025, by which time we would have a better understanding of how COVID-19 has impacted the aviation sector.”
DfT publishes night flights consultation – no concessions to airport groups for another 4 years…?
Historically, the DfT has set the night flight regime – for the “designated” airports, Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted – for periods of 5 years. The last regime was in 2017, for the period from October 2017 to October 2022. The DfT says: “The aim of the regime was to maintain the status quo and ensure that communities do not experience any overall increase in the noise created by night flights.” It has allowed a high level of night flights, with no reductions on earlier numbers, despite significant community opposition. Seventeen airport groups wrote to the Aviation Minister on 10th November, asking that night flights should be limited in future, with a proper night period in which no flights are permitted (other than genuine emergencies). The aim was to make their point before the DfT consultation (by which time the DfT has decided what it intends to do …). The government has now published its new night flights consultation, for the period 2022 to 2024. The DfT intends there to be no change to the current regime (no concessions to suffering from being overflown at night) other than phasing out the noisiest planes, which airlines are getting rid of anyway, due to Covid. DfT says: “… we are also seeking early views and evidence on policy options for the government’s future night flight policy at the designated airports beyond 2024, and nationally.”
Campaign groups call for ban on Gatwick Airport night flights
Both community groups at Gatwick, GACC and CAGNE, are calling for a ban on night flights from Gatwick. “If night flights continue to be allowed, GACC argues they should be limited to those that are genuinely essential for economic reasons, not leisure flights, and that they should be far more strictly regulated.” Successive governments have acknowledged that noise from aircraft at night has significant health, economic and other impacts on communities near airports and under flight paths, and have asserted that they take this very seriously. But there has been no bottom-up review of the UK’s night flight regime since 2006. Instead, the government has repeatedly rolled forward night flight limits set many years ago, without any re-examination of what we believe are the very limited economic benefits, whilst failing to take account of the increasingly strong evidence of the adverse physical and mental health impacts night flights have on communities. There is no reason to continue to operate services at night when there is ample capacity at times of day that have less serious health and community impacts. The first part of the DfT consultation on night flights ended on 3rd March; the second part ends on 31st May.
Groups write to Aviation Minister, asking for new limits on night flights – including need for an 8-hour night period
A long list of organisations and groups have signed a letter to the Transport Minister, Robert Courts, asking for action to limit night flights. It is understood that the government intends to publish a consultation and call for evidence on night flights later this year. The groups hope the DfT will take their views into consideration, and not (as in 2017) decide policy on night flights BEFORE consulting. They say that all night flights, other than for emergency and humanitarian purposes, should be banned at all UK airports. The period defined as night should be an eight hour period. If any night flights are to be permitted, their number and impacts should be regulated far more robustly than they are now, at all airports. In the past, the government has argued that the economic benefits of allowing planes to fly at night outweigh the health and quality of life costs of those negatively affected. This can no longer withstand scrutiny, as many flights are just to perpetuate a low-cost carrier business model that generates unsustainable levels of leisure flights. The demand for business flights is increasingly replaced by internet communications, and most air freight does not need to arrive the next day.