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Aircraft noise is an ongoing concern for people who live near to, or under the flight path for an airport. At designated airports the relevant authority (the Secretary of State for Transport in the case of England and Wales, Scottish Minister in Scotland) can mitigate the problem by limiting the number of flights and the type of aircraft that fly into and out of airports during the early morning (from 2300 to 0700). These are generally referred to as ‘night flights’.

The current regime expires in October 2017 and in January 2017 the Government published its proposals for new limits to operate between 2017 and 2022. The key points are:

  • reducing the total noise quota at Heathrow Airport by at least 43% in the winter and 50% in the summer;
  • reducing noise quotas at Gatwick by at least 17% in the winter and 21% in the summer;
  • setting a strict cap at existing levels for the number of night flights from Heathrow and Gatwick; and
  • ending exemptions for almost 1,700 night flights operating out of Stansted by including these in the new cap, setting a strict limit which the airport cannot exceed.

Campaign groups at the three airports have given the proposals a mixed reaction and are calling for tougher restrictions to be put in place, particularly in the long term.

The proposals for the new regime period end well before the earliest estimated date for the opening of a new runway at Heathrow (mid-2020s). In the longer term Heathrow will have to commit to an outright ban on night flights if it hopes to expand.

This paper does not cover non-designated airports, where the responsibility for managing night flights and enforcing noise limits rests with the airport operator; often there will be consultation with local communities and, where applicable, local councils. 

Information on other aviation issues, including aircraft noise and Heathrow expansion, can be found on the Aviation Topical Page


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