Campaigners urge government to ban night flights into Heathrow

Residents living underneath Heathrow’s flight path are hoping to end night flights, saying they “dread going to bed” because of the noise from planes landing and taking off.

The Department for Transport is proposing to continue allowing flights to land and take off from the airport between 11.30pm to 6am until at least 2024.

But campaign groups are calling for the government to ban flights from the busy London airport at night because it is affecting sleep and wellbeing of residents.

Bridget Bell (left) and her neighbour protest night flights

Bridget Bell, who lives in Walworth, said: “The impact on my quality of life has been enormous. My sleep is disturbed and I find myself tearful at work and with friends through sheer exhaustion.

“I dread going to bed. I sometimes dread leaving work, knowing that my haven of a home is now just an unquiet scenario of ceaseless plane activity.

“Five hours sleep combined with the endless whine of planes between 4.30am until 11.30pm is sheer hell.”

Anne Roache, from Camberwell, also said that the noise wakes her up in the early hours of the morning.

She said: “I have double glazing and I still get woken at 4.30am and then kept awake for ages anticipating the rumbling approach of the next aeroplane building up to a loud screech overhead and then counting the seconds between the whine of its engines dissipating and the rumble of the next craft approaching.

“We have always had planes over Camberwell but in recent years they have got louder, lower, earlier, and more constant. 

“Whilst I recognise that other parts of London may have it worse – the policy of concentrated flight paths mean people like us who live under them suffer longer and more intensely with both Heathrow and City planes.”

The current restrictions allow 5,800 take-offs and landings at Heathrow a year between 11.30pm and 6am. There is also a noise quota in place.

Research by the World Health Organisation has found that sleep disturbance caused by the sound of aircraft can have adverse health impacts on communities below flight paths.

The Department for Transport is holding an online consultation for their proposal to extend the current restrictions to 2024.

They are also planning to ban night flights for aircraft that is classed as QC4 – meaning it is louder than 96 decibels.

Campaign groups Plane Hell Action South East and No 3rd Runway Coalition are urging residents to respond to the consultation with their experiences.

The current lockdown and reduction in air travel has come as a welcome respite for some people.

Dan Scorer

Dan Scorer, a 42-year-old charity worker from Brockley, said: Having been working from home throughout lockdown the reduction in plane noise has provided real peace during a time of great emotional stress for us all. 

“I’ve been able to sleep with a window open and not be woken at 5am, and join work calls with windows open without the constant interruption of plane noise. Parks have been quiet and restful to walk in, and birdsong a wonderful background rather than the roar of aircraft. 

“It reminds me why I moved here 12 years ago, before aircraft descended unannounced and with no consultation on airspace changes.”

Paul McGuinness, Chair of the No 3rd Runway Coalition:”Overflying the most densely populated residential region in the country, Heathrow’s night flights have caused misery and associated health issues for decades and are one the many local reasons why expanding the airport fills so many with dread.

“Even if the current 6.5 hour moratorium on night flights were properly observed, it’s inadequate because children and rest of us need more sleep than that.

“But with the time calculated from when planes leave and dock at the terminals, it’s not even that, because planes are still waking up residents half an hour after departing terminals, and overflying their bedrooms half an hour before arriving. And even during the remaining 5.5 hours, a certain number of night flights are permitted on a quota system, despite only one noise event being required during what remains of the night to make it a sleepless one”.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Transport said: “The current consultation aims to ensure that any potential for noise pollution resulting from night flights is balanced out by the positive economic benefits and jobs generated for the local area. We welcome all responses to the consultation.”

A spokeswoman for Heathrow airport said: Night flights form an essential, although very small, part of Heathrow’s operations and are an important contributor to the economic benefits the aviation sector provides. 

“Our night-time operations are already heavily restricted by the government, and this is set to continue with the new proposals. The government is currently consulting on their proposal to maintain the restrictions and we will be responding to their consultation in due course.”

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3 thoughts on “Campaigners urge government to ban night flights into Heathrow

  • #AircraftNoise. We are all benefiting for the work being undertaking by these pro-active campaign groups as hundreds of London postcodes are impacted by the occurrence of early morning and late evening flights. This fact is clearly represented by the latest release of the postcode Aircraft Traffic Assessment interactive heat map which has been developed off the back of a citizen research project – see for more info.

    Underlying the aircraft noise issues raised by the campaign groups is the fact there is no regulation for “operational” aircraft noise or emissions, certainly for locations more than 2-3 miles away from the airport. Worse still the aviation sector are explicitly exempted from the existing Noise and Environment laws that other businesses must be compliant with.

    However, there are discretionary planning constraints that can be applied to airport but this is a very blunt instrument as it only applies to a single airport’s activity. In London there is a cluster of 5 independently operated airports. To enable these airports to co-exist the flights are forced narrow flight corridors and are required to fly at low altitude with all the preparation being starting 35 miles away from the actual airports. You can also only image what happens when there are delays at anyone of these airports, we get airspace grid-lock with lots of planes circling and zig-zagging around the London and home counties postcodes waiting for clearance.

    The aviation industry istelf recognises that aircraft produce lots of noise and dangerous emissions and that the airspace is overloaded. They go on to state the only real solution to the problem is to; a) introduce noise and emission regulation, b) reduce demand, c) to consolidate and relocate London’s airports to perhaps a coastal location as if it were a nuclear power station.

    The current growth of flights is unsustainable and there is a danger London becomes a residential waste land for many families as they are chased out by noise and emissions. No industry sector should continue to remain that powerful and influential.

  • Ian Crane

    Simple. If you don’t like planes, don’t live near a flight path. I live within 500 yards of Heathrow and have just learned to get used to it. I very often work nights so whilst I’m asleep, aircraft take off every 2 mins. Get used to it

  • No, not that simple if you have lived in the same house, at 18nm from Heathrow touchdown, for 30 years, have centred your family, professional and social life in that same area for 30 years and for those same 30 years have not been aware of plane noise. When BOOM! Overnight the flight path changes, no consultation, and you are subjected to 19 hours ceaseless plane noise, starting at 4.30am and not ending until 11.30pm i.e. 70% of the time when Heathrow is on westerly operations (and that’s before factoring in late runners). You may well have moved into an area in the knowledge that planes would be a part of the environment and you may well be used to that level of noise. Those of us who had planes ‘visited’ on us have not made that choice and don’t necessarily have your ability to ‘get used to it’. Don’t make such dismissive judgements without knowing the facts.


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