What Are Airport Curfews And Why Do They Matter?

Whilst there are a fair few red-eye flights in the US, you might have noticed that it’s not always possible to book late night flights in some countries. That’s because of airport curfews. But what are they and why do they matter?

What Are Airport Curfews And Why Do They Matter?
What are airport curfews and why do they matter? Photo: DaniloBueno via Needpix

What are the airport curfews?

Airport curfews, or night flying restrictions, are rulings that prevent aircraft operating at certain times of the night. That means that between mandated hours, airlines are not allowed to take-off, taxi or land.

And the reason? Well, it’s an act of courtesy. As urban areas encroach closer and closer to airports in the demand for space, it’s important to keep both sides happy. Airports must operate within the strict hours and residents get a good night’s sleep.

But why are airlines forced to follow these sets of rules?

Simply put, aircraft are noisy. Without noise restrictions, it would be impossible for residents to comfortably live close to airports. There are a plethora of studies indicating the resulting impact of poor night’s sleep including detrimental effects on mental and physical health.

But the curfews also tie into more than just individual impact. It’s economic as well. As housing space becomes more competitive, populations are forced closer to the auricular and visual assault that is the modern-day airport operation. A concern for consistent airport activity is that the value of housing situated near airports would go down creating a belt of unprofitable land.

Which airports have a curfew?

Late-night aircraft activity is standard practice for many, but not so much in Europe and Australia. The rules for curfews at Sydney airport were solidified back in 1995 and still stand to this day. The airport does not allow take-off or landings for some aircraft between 23:00 and 06:00.

Similar legislation applies in the UK’s Gatwick, Heathrow, and Stansted airports. These airports work off a quota system. These rules came into place in 1962  and also apply between the hours of 23:00 and 06:00.

What Are Airport Curfews And Why Do They Matter?
Airports like London Gatwick operate a curfew. Photo: Mike McBey via Flickr

On its website, Gatwick Aiport says:

“There are restrictions on the level of night time noise that is allowed and the number of planes that can fly at night. On average, Gatwick has 45-50 flights a night in the summer, and 18-20 a night in the winter.”

A quota is allocated per airport to allow the departure and arrival of night-flights. Aircraft are ranked from noisiest to quietest and a portion of the quota is deducted dependant on the noise pollution. For example, the noisest aircraft take up 16 aircraft points. The second noisest take up eight.

This is the same as Sydney Airport. It says that some aircraft are permitted to operate within the curfew and those aircraft are based on the noise pollution they produce.

So what does this mean for airlines?

Essentially, if airlines want to bypass night curfews in popular destinations where they apply they need to operate aircraft with quieter engines. When you look at the spec for new aircraft, it’s not only the passengers that benefit from a reduced noise cabin.

Airbus A380 is accepted as the quietest long-haul aircraft cabin alongside Boeing’s 787 Dreamliners. Those aircraft that use geared turbofan engines like the Boeing 737 MAX and Airbus A320neo are also reckoned to be some of the quietest.

What Are Airport Curfews And Why Do They Matter?
Aircraft like the A380 produce less noise pollution. Photo: Dmitry A. Mottl via Wikimedia Commons

But the Embraer Regional Jet also gives a quiet sound reading with models like the ERJ-190 reported to be 50% quieter than the Boeing 737-800.

But not all airlines can employ quieter aircraft and so it becomes even more crucial that they run a tight schedule. Missing a departure slot could mean being stranded at the airport until morning.

Recently on a flight from Geneva, a member of Simple Flying staff was delayed due to French ATC strikes. When the plane was eventually boarded, the pilot’s voice came over the tannoy in a panicked tone. The pilot said they needed to quickly de-ice and head off from the airport before the airport curfew came into effect. At 00:26 the aircraft took-off from Geneva with just four minutes to spare before GVA’s 00:30 night flight restriction!

Have you ever been affected by night flight restrictions? Do you think they should apply? Let us know in the comment below!

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