It is just possible that residents under the Heathrow flight paths could enjoy a whole new night-time experience: sleep!
Currently that sleep can be badly interrupted by planes. There’s the unscheduled late take-offs after 11.30pm – in fact the last plane is timetabled to leave Heathrow before 11pm. There are the 16 arrivals between 4.30 and 6am. And there are the 60 plus planes between 7 and 8am, one of the busiest hours at the airport.
It has been much the same for over a quarter of a century. The airlines value the night flights but they drive many residents to distraction. Government has realized how toxic an issue it is and so has kept the regime largely unchanged for the last 25 years.
But now an opportunity to change things could arise. The third runway could be the catalyst. HACAN continues to oppose a third runway primarily because we are concerned about the impact of a quarter of a million more planes using Heathrow each year. But, if a third runway is to go ahead, the opportunity must not be lost to prize open the stalemate on night flights than has lasted for over quarter of a century.
The Airports Commission argued in its final report that a third runway would provide the capacity for the 16 flights which come in before 6am flights to land just after six, thus remaining attractive to the majority of passengers who use them. The airlines will resist but, in return for getting a whole new runway, is it really too much to ask that they don’t start operating until 6am? Sir Howard Davies certainly felt it was not.
It will be more difficult to relocate the 60 plus planes which currently use the airport between 6 and 7am but this is the time to make a creative assessment to see what can be done about them. How essential it is that all these planes arrive and depart during this hour? Does the extra capacity provided by the third runway allow at least some of them to be shunted post 7am? If it would do, it would open the way to ensure people only get flights before 7am one week in three (wind permitting) as only one runway would be used for landings and one for departures during those hours.
Heathrow is also getting serious about late night departures. They have been coming down in recent years and Heathrow’s recent sustainability plan, Heathrow 2, includes specific targets to reduce them further (genuine emergencies and late running due to really bad weather would be excluded).
So, what could an overall package look like to allow residents to sleep at night?
- For two weeks out of three, no flights from 11pm until 7am
- On the third week, no flights from 11pm until 6am
Compare the current situation: often departures after 11pm and sometimes into the early hours; 16 planes between 4.30am and 6am (at least every other week) and over 60 planes between 6am and 7am.
If a third runway does go ahead, this change is worth fighting for.