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Night flights - Early morning arrivals

We know that night flights are a particularly sensitive aspect of the operation for local communities. Night flights are also an important part of operations at airports around the world. The time differences in an inter-connected global transport system mean that it is difficult to avoid flights at night and early in the morning.

An early morning arrival means a full day’s business can take place for some passengers while others may transfer onto a connecting flight at Heathrow.

Currently there is no formal ban on night flights at Heathrow but the Government has heavily restricted their use since the 1960s. These are some of the strongest restrictions on night flights of any hub airport in Europe.

Heathrow and airline operators have already been successful in reducing and mitigating noise within limits set by the Government and we continue to strive to operate well within these limits, rather than simply meeting them.

As part of our proposed expansion we are proposing to introduce a scheduled night flight ban as well as a package of measures to manage noise from night operations.

What times are the first and last flights scheduled at Heathrow today?

At Heathrow we do not have any scheduled departures between 10:50pm and 6:00am or scheduled arrivals between 11.05pm and 4.45am. 

This means that there are no scheduled flights after 11.05pm and before 4.45am. 

Heathrow also has an arrangement with its airlines that any planes scheduled to arrive from 4.45am will not land on the runway before 4.30am. 

Over 90% of all the scheduled movements that operate during the night quota period (11.30pm-6.00am) are early morning arrivals and the majority of these are scheduled to arrive after 5am. 

In addition, Heathrow does not have any scheduled freight flights in the night quota period.

Question – Night flights – Early morning arrivals

While looking through the information below please keep in mind that we are asking for your feedback on the following question, with three parts:

  • To help inform our consideration of the options for early morning arrivals, we want to know whether you would prefer for us to:
    • Use one runway for scheduled arrivals from 5.30am (runway time 5.15am);
    • Use two runways for scheduled arrivals from 5.45am (runway time 5.30am);
    • Or don’t know.
  • The reasons for your preference
  • Any other comments or suggestions you might have on early morning arrivals

How do “scheduled” and “runway” times differ when referring to flights?

It is important to understand the difference between the scheduled time (the times shown on arrival and departure boards) and the time planes arrive or depart from the runway. 

IMAGE | Diagram showing the difference between scheduled time and runway time, with taxi time in between.

 

Using arrivals as an example: 

  • The scheduled time of an arrival is the time that the plane reaches the airport stand (when the plane stops at the terminal gate and you get off); 
  • The runway time is the time the plane touches down on the runway. 

There is approximately 15 minutes between the plane touching down on the runway and it taxiing to the airport stand (although this will vary between flights and times of the day). 

It is the same for departures, the scheduled time is the time the plane will push back from the gate and the runway time will be approximately 15 minutes later when it takes off.

What are the options Heathrow is proposing for early morning arrivals?

The first scheduled arrivals currently at Heathrow in the morning are at 4.45am, this means they touch down on the runway from 4.30am onwards. As part of our proposed expansion and the introduction of a scheduled night flight ban we are proposing to land our early morning arrivals later than this. 

Our early work has shown that to land our early morning arrivals later in the morning but still land the same number of flights (in a shorter amount of time) there are two options:

IMAGE | Option 1 for early morning flight arrivals at Heathrow in future.
Option 1: An earlier start using one runway
If we open earlier and only use one runway for arrivals, communities would benefit from a later start (6am) two out of every three days. Fewer people will be affected/overflown on any given night as all planes land on one runway.
IMAGE | Diagram showing option 2 for early morning arrival flights at Heathrow in future using two runways.
Option 2: A slightly later start using two runways
If we open slightly later and use two runways for arrivals, communities would benefit from a later start (6am) one out of every three days. Planes use both runways so flights are shared over a wider area in the early morning but more people will be affected/overflown on any given night.

What time will the scheduled night flights ban begin and end?

We continue to support the Government’s expectation of a 6.5 hour scheduled night flights ban and we are currently evaluating this in line with the Balanced Approach (as described here – see How does international aviation policy play a part in managing noise?). Our view is that a 6.5 hour ban should not begin before 11pm or end after 6am because of the following constraints: 

  • Scheduled ban starting before 11pm – we are not proposing to start the ban each night before 11pm because the night period in the UK is set by the Government and is between 11pm and 7am. 
  • Scheduled ban finishing after 6am – we are not proposing to extend the ban beyond 6am as this would have a significant economic impact and reduce Heathrow’s ability to compete with other European hub airports. It would also mean that Heathrow could not accommodate the annual number of flights (at least 740,000 per year) required by the Airports National Policy Statement (NPS) (the Airports NPS sets out Government policy for the expansion of Heathrow and the construction of a new north-west runway)

To help us decide on the proposed timing for the scheduled night flights ban we want to know how you think we should manage our early morning arrivals for an expanded Heathrow. 

What was the feedback on the scheduled night flights ban in Heathrow’s consultation in 2018?

In January 2018 we asked for feedback on the proposed 6.5 hour scheduled night flight ban between the hours of 11pm and 7am. We stated our preference for it to be between 11pm and 5.30am.

A range of responses were received on the proposed length of the ban and when it should be put in place each night. 

Local Authority feedback to the consultation was varied with most supporting the idea of a ban and over half suggesting that it should be longer. 

Members of the public were also supportive of a ban on scheduled night flights with many suggesting it should be longer than 6.5 hours and that it should include all unscheduled aircraft. 

Airlines expressed strong concerns about the economic impacts of a scheduled night flight ban and said that its introduction could result in flight cancellations and potentially entire route cancellations.  

Further information can be found in the Interim Consultation Feedback Report.

What questions are you asking for feedback on in this section of the consultation? 

To help inform our consideration of the options for early morning arrivals we are seeking feedback on the following question, with three parts:

  • To help inform our consideration of the options for early morning arrivals, we want to know whether you would prefer for us to:
    • Use one runway for scheduled arrivals from 5.30am (runway time 5.15am);
    • Use two runways for scheduled arrivals from 5.45am (runway time 5.30am);
    • Or don’t know.
  • The reasons for your preference
  • Any other comments or suggestions you might have on early morning arrivals