People living under the flight paths of the UK’s major airports, including Heathrow, will take part in studies to assess the impact of night flights on sleep quality, as part of a campaign to curtail take-off times.
Opposition MPs on the flight path to Heathrow are leading the campaign for an end to late-night take-offs and landings.
Psychological assessments of sleep disturbance and sound-level measurements in some participants’ bedrooms will take place.
Liberal Democrat MPs with constituencies near Heathrow Airport want the last take-offs to be earlier, possibly as early as 10pm.
“This is the only way we can be sure that residents will not continue to suffer from noise disruption,” said Sarah Olney, MP for Richmond Park.
“If the government will not commit to this, they must commission a full independent analysis of the impact of night flights on the health of local communities, the environment and the UK economy to inform future policy development.”
Party colleague Munira Wilson, whose Twickenham constituency is close to Heathrow, also wants the government to make the last take-off earlier.
The new research is the first such sleep study in 30 years and could lead to bans or tighter restrictions on late and overnight take-offs.
“Exposure to aviation noise at night can impact on physical and mental well-being, as well as sleep disturbance,” said Transport Minister Richard Holden.
There is a government-imposed annual limit on the number of flights at Heathrow between 11.30pm and 6am.
In July, Heathrow apologised to people suffering “greater disturbance” as more aircraft were arriving and departing later than planned.
Heathrow Airport in London, the UK’s busiest, has been a travel hub for decades. Here ‘The National’ takes a look back at Heathrow through the years. All photos: Getty Images
Heathrow does not have any scheduled departures between 10.50pm and 6am, or scheduled arrivals between 10.55pm and 4.40am, but take-offs and landings occur within those periods when planes are delayed.
The sleep study has been commissioned after current night-flight restrictions were extended for three years
“To better understand this, the department has commissioned the aviation night noise effects study to examine the relationship between aviation noise and sleep disturbance and annoyance, and how this varies by different times of the night,” Mr Holden said.
“It is the first study of aviation noise effects on sleep disturbance in the UK for over 30 years.
“The first stage will involve a cross-section of 4,000 people who live near eight of the major airports in the UK to assess the association between aircraft noise exposure at night and subjective assessments of sleep quality and annoyance.”
“The second stage of the study will involve an observational study of individuals recruited from the survey to assess the association between aircraft noise exposure and objective sleep quality,” he added.
“This will involve psychological assessments of sleep disturbance and sound level measurements in participants’ bedrooms.
“That evidence will also be used to inform future policies for night-flight aviation noise exposure, and assist with the management and mitigation of health impacts on local communities, as part of a wider assessment of the costs and benefits of night flying.”
MPs were told that air traffic control disruption has increased the number of late-running flights.
Mr Holden said the government has set noise controls — including restrictions on night operations at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted — for several decades.
The study is a collaboration between St George’s University of London, NatCen Social Research, Noise Consultants Ltd and the University of Pennsylvania.
Updated: November 09, 2022, 11:00 AM