Department for Transport
Great Minster House
33 Horseferry Road
Tel: 0300 330 3000
Web Site: www.gov.uk/dft
30 May 2016
Dear Derek Wyatt
Flight paths and night flights at Heathrow Airport
Thank you for your letter of 25 April 2015 to the Secretary of State for Transport, Patrick McLoughlin, about flight paths and night flights at Heathrow Airport. I am responding from the Department for Transport’s Aviation Directorate which administers aviation policy.
The Government recognises that noise from aircraft at night is widely regarded as the least acceptable aspect of aircraft operations, and therefore limits Heathrow to 5,800 flights a year during the night quota period, which runs from 23.30 to 06.00. This equates to approximately 16 ‘movements’ per night for Heathrow and the Government also sets restrictions at Gatwick and Heathrow airports. These restrictions are adopted using powers under Section 78 of the Civil Aviation Act 1982, which allows the Secretary of State to take action to avoid, limit or mitigate noise. These restrictions were most recently reviewed through a two stage consultation process in 2013 and in July 2014 the Government announced it would retain the main features of the previous night flights regime and make no changes to the movement limits for Heathrow, Gatwick or Stansted. The Government’s decision and supporting documentation can be found at the link below:
With regards to why the Government allows flights to take place at these times, the purposes of the night flight restrictions set at these airports is to balance the interests of communities who live near these airports with the economic benefits these flights offer to the UK economy. When making its announcement on the current night flights regime in summer 2014, the Government accepted that there are adverse effects on sleep and that there is increasing, though not conclusive evidence of health effects from aircraft noise. Balancing these against the economic benefits of night flights, it was decided it was appropriate to maintain the existing restrictions until October 2017. The Government is due to consult on options for night flights at these airports later this year. When reaching a decision on what restrictions should apply from October 2017 onwards, it will continue to strike a balance between these interests.
You also asked why aircraft arrive into Heathrow over London and not from the opposite direction. This is because for safety reasons aircraft have to take off and land into the wind. In the UK the prevalent wind direction is from the west (around 70% of the time). This means on most occasions aircraft depart to the west and arrive from the east.
Finally, I am not aware of any changes to flight paths of aircraft arriving into Heathrow that you query. For aircraft arriving in the UK, there are no set routes leading to the final approach. This is because arriving aircraft approach UK airspace in a random pattern and then have to be sequenced for safe operation. In order to ensure the safe and efficient utilisation of some of the busiest airspace in the world, air traffic control (ATC) has discretion over the exact location that an aircraft will intercept the instrument landing system (ILS) and start its descent to land. The ILS is a beam which is aligned with the runway centreline on order to guide aircraft in a straight line approach for safe landing and as a result there is not scope for this to be moved.
I hope you have found this response helpful.