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Commercial aircraft should be banned from operating overnight at airports because of concerns that excess noise can damage residents’ health, the government has been told. In a letter to the aviation minister, 17 community and environmental groups said yesterday that a night flight ban should be imposed for eight hours to allow residents to have a full night’s sleep. Only emergency or humanitarian flights should be allowed late at night and early in the morning, it said. The intervention was made as the government prepared to launch a consultation into the future of night flights at airports across the country.
The Department for Transport (DfT) has the direct power to restrict night flights at three big airports: Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted. These powers are used to cap the overall number of flights and noise levels, with Heathrow, the UK’s busiest airport, limited at present to an average of 16 flights each night. The existing regime will remain in place until late 2022. However, the department is expected to unveil plans soon that will pave the way for reform at all airports across the country. It is unlikely to set direct quotas on take-offs and landings but it could propose improved monitoring of the impact on local homes and the requirement for better sound-proofing.
Yesterday, a coalition of national and local campaign groups wrote to Robert Courts, the aviation minister, to urge him to consider an all-out ban on flights between 11pm and 7am because of concerns that repeated exposure to aircraft noise at night can disrupt sleep, leading to health problems. One previous study of European airports found that even a small increase in noise at night was associated with a 14 per cent rise in the risk of high blood pressure. Other research has linked noise to higher chances of hospital admissions for strokes and heart disease.
The letter was signed by the Aviation Environment Federation, the Aviation Communities Forum and local groups representing residents living close to airports such as Southampton, Gatwick, Heathrow, Luton, Bristol, Stansted, East Midlands and Glasgow.
It said that night flights were used mainly by budget airlines or cargo aircraft carrying freight, which is “rarely time-critical”. “If building aviation back better is to mean anything it must mean putting people’s health and welfare ahead of cheap flights for the small section of society who fly frequently, and airline profits,” it said. However, any move to limit night flights will be strongly opposed by airlines hit hard financially by the coronavirus pandemic.
Ministers proposed a ban on night flights at Heathrow as part of the plans that granted it outline permission to build a third runway. Heathrow is still appealing in the Supreme Court a Court of Appeal verdict that quashed the official approval for the expansion. A DfT spokeswoman said: “We recognise the concerns around the impact of noise on communities and intend to consult on night flights restrictions at Heathrow, Gatwick, and Stansted shortly, as well as the government’s national night flight policy.”