Call for Heathrow Night Flights

Heathrow AirportMinisters are considering a call that would allow an increase in the number of night flights to and from London Heathrow Airport. The current ban on night flights is due to expire in 2014, and a consultation will be held about changes later this year. According to Middle East carrier Emirates, the Airbus A380 superjumbo could be flown during the 1am to 4am curfew. This would be done by altering the descent of the aircraft to offer additional services without disturbing nearly residents in the early hours of the morning. The A380 superjumbo is considered a quiet aircraft by aviation critics.

There are already 1,300 flights operating at Heathrow Airport every day, and Emirates believes the only way to create new capacity at the hub is to extend its operating hours. There are currently only 16 flights allowed to arrive and depart the airport in the early morning, and these are operated between 4:15am and 6am. Emirates president Tim Clark asks why this wouldn’t be considered as a means to grow capacity at the hub if the noise profile is much quieter.

Allowing more night flights, however, will certainly spark a wave of protests from residents, including Transport Secretary Justine Greening’s constituents in Putney. However, the carrier’s proposals would consist of a steeper descent that would see the planes remaining at a higher altitude for longer – in turn, minimising noise. If the plans are approved, they would also see the superjumbos land further along the runway. This would change the trajectory and keep the plane further away from residents living just outside the airport’s perimetre.

Although Emirates has drawn up this proposal, other airlines are likely to watch it closely as they introduce the A380 to their fleets. For example, Singapore Airlines has announced that its three daily services at Heathrow will all use superjumbos. Additionally, work has recently started on the A380s that will be delivered to British Airways, who will begin operating the aircraft next year.

The initiative from Emirates has been cautiously welcomed by Heathrow Airport officials. A spokesman says that advances in technology are developing quieter planes and the industry is examining at innovative way to operate those aircraft to minimise noise further. They will encourage the government to consider the new possibilities, he added.

However, Heathrow Association for the Control of Aircraft Noise (HACAN) chairman John Stewart is sceptical about the proposal. He says the A380 superjumbo is certainly quieter than other big planes but not quiet enough to avoid being a nocturnal nuisance. The aircraft will still wake up many people, and it will be surprising if Department for Transport (DfT) ministers liberalise the night flight restrictions at the hub. They know an uproar will be sparked, he added.

A DfT spokesman said that noise reduction procedures would be considered in the draft aviation policy framework, which will be published for consultation this summer and intends to be finalised next spring. The current night noise limitations at the hub have been extended for two years, until 2014. They will launch a first stage consultation later in the year, which will pursue detailed evidence. Any contributions to the debate will be welcome, he added.




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