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Night flights - Other night restrictions

Sometimes planes need to operate in the night period when they have not been scheduled to do so. This could be for a number of reasons such as delays that have built up during the day or a technical fault with an aircraft that needs to be repaired.

There is always a delicate balance to be struck as to whether a flight should be allowed at night, considering the effects on local communities, passengers and the airline network. 

We will still need a restricted recovery period in the future (see below for more details) for an expanded Heathrow. 

Today, we use a mixture of quota count and movement limits to control unscheduled night flights and we are currently testing a range of measures to manage the entire night period in the future. 

What is the "quota count"?

The quota count system, set by Government, has been in place at Heathrow since 1993 and applies to all the major London airports.

Each plane has a number of points based on how noise it is, the noisier the plane – the higher the number of points.

If a plane lands or takes off during the night quota period (11.30pm-6pm), its points count towards a limit based on whether it’s operating during the summer or winter period.

The night quota count system is designed to discourage the use of noisier older planes and encourage the use of quieter newer planes.

No plane with a very high score (the oldest and noisiest) is allowed to take-off or land during the night quota period.

What is the movement limit?

The movement limit restricts the total number of flights that can take place in the night quota period over each summer and winter period.

Questions – Night flights – Other night restrictions

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

  • Any comments or any other suggestions on how we should encourage the use of the quietest type of aircraft at night (outside the proposed scheduled night flight ban)?
  • Any other comments you have on night flights and restrictions.

How do the night flight quota count and movement limit work together?

The movement limit and quota count restrictions work together to make sure the overall number of night flights are limited and that the quietest planes are used:

  • If newer quieter planes are used their night quota scores will be low – but the total number will be restricted by the movement limit.
  • If noisier aircraft are used their night quota scores will be high and their number will be restricted by the quota count limit.

The quota count combined with the movement limit ensure the total number of night flights are restricted at Heathrow and the use of the quietest planes is encouraged.

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 6:20am 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.

For more information on how “scheduled” and “runway” times differ, please see section – Night flights – Early morning arrivals

Heathrow's existing "recovery" and "restricted recovery" periods at night

Today, Heathrow has essentially five broad periods of activity through the night period: “Recovery” (11pm-11.29pm), “Restricted recovery” (11.30pm-1am), “Exceptional Circumstances Only” (1am-4.30am), “Early Morning Scheduled Operations” (4.30am-6am), and “Full Scheduled Operations” (6am-7am).

 

The periods of most relevance to the questions in this section are, in more detail:

  • “Recovery” is the period when the airport schedule can recover from any delays that have built up over the course of the day. This period is not subject to movement or quota limit restrictions, as flights within this period do not fall into the Night Quota Period but it falls within the night period and is predominantly a period where no operations are scheduled;
  • “Restricted recovery” is the period when the airport schedule is continuing to recover from any delays that have built up over the course of the day or any aircraft technical issues that could have occurred. Because this period falls into the night quota period there are restrictions on the type and number of aircraft that can operate in this time. This period will very rarely go beyond 01:00, and there is no guarantee that an aircraft will be permitted to operate, even if there is quota and movements still available.

Full definitions of the other periods are available in our technical document Runway Operations – Night flights.

How would you manage the recovery period in the future with an expanded Heathrow?

We will still need a restricted recovery period (see night flight restrictions chart above) for an expanded Heathrow. We are currently testing a range of measures to manage the entire night period.

The type of measures that we could use for the recovery period could include: 

  • Limiting the aircraft that are allowed to operate to the quietest types; 
  • Limiting the time they can operate during the scheduled night ban period (‘unscheduled’ flights that have been delayed); 
  • Restricting the quota count of aircraft that can operate in the recovery period (see next section for a description of this); 
  • Regular reviews of the quota count to make sure it achieves its objectives.

What incentives can be used to ensure the quietest aircraft are used at night?

The Airports National Policy Statement (NPS) expects Heathrow to incentivise the use of the quietest aircraft at night.  The Airports NPS sets out Government policy for the expansion of Heathrow and the construction of a new north-west runway.

We have set out today’s night quota system and would support continuation of a future night quota system for expansion.

In order to encourage the use of more modern and quieter aircraft, the Government also reduces the amount of quota points available in the night quota period as new planes and technology becomes available. We would also support this approach with expansion.

At Heathrow, we also already do this by charging lower landing fees for the quietest aircraft to operate at the airport. With the expansion of Heathrow we intend to continue this approach and incentivise the use of “best in class” aircraft.

We will also be reviewing the structure of our landing fees and engaging with airlines to understand how we can encourage them to use their quietest planes during the night.

It is important to note that this and all the elements in this consultation tie back to the noise envelope (please see section – Managing noise at an expanded Heathrow). The concept of the noise envelope will mean that to meet the targets or stay within the limits and grow sustainability, new and innovative technology, equipment and operating procedures will be needed.

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

To help inform our consideration of the options for other night restrictions, we want your feedback on the following question, in two parts:

  • Any comments or any other suggestions on how we should encourage the use of the quietest type of aircraft at night (outside the proposed scheduled night flight ban)?
  • Any other comments you have on night flights and restrictions.