Gatwick is allowed to operate a limited service at night. 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.
The rules for night time
Until 1962, the government had no policy on night noise, and airlines were free to fly into and out of the airport at any time.
Since 1962, in response to increasing community concern about noise, the government has tightened the rules. But there is not – and never has been – a ban on night flights. The government allows them because it sees them as being important for the well-being of the airline and travel industries, and for the UK economy as a whole.
The night time rules apply from 23:00 until 06:00. There is also a ‘shoulder period’ at either end of the night, with slightly less strict rules – that is 23:00-23:30 and 06:00-07:00.
From 23.30-06:00, the rules allow for a limited number of flights and a limited amount of noise over the whole summer or winter season. The number of flights is based on a points or ‘quota’ system relating to each plane’s noise levels.
On top of the quota system, there is also an absolute limit on the number of flights permitted at the airport. Under the quota system, the airport has a total number of ‘quota points’, which are then used up by night time flights. Different types of planes use up different numbers of points, depending on how noisy they are.
The noisiest aircraft use 16 points of the quota, and they’re called QC16s (QC = Quota Count). The next noisiest have eight points – QC8s. As planes get quieter, their points get smaller until the quietest planes have just half a point or are exempt altogether.
During the night quota period the noisiest types of planes are not permitted to be scheduled. Because there is a limit on the airport’s total quota of points for night-time flying, this system encourages airlines who want to fly at night to use the quietest aircraft.