Gatwick found itself back under fire this week after eight MPs whose constituencies border the airport signed a letter condemning attempts to charge ‘significantly less’ for night flights from next year.
Drafted by the office of Tonbridge MP Tom Tugendhat, the letter to Chris Grayling, Secretary of State for Transport, states any increase in night flights resulting from cheaper charges would have a ‘devastating’ impact on neighbouring communities.
It continues: “We all represent communities affected by noise from aircraft using Gatwick. The constant stream of aircraft damages the economic prosperity and environmental sustainability of towns and villages on all sides of the airport.
“It is therefore regrettable and in our view not acceptable that Gatwick Airport propose to charge significantly less for night flights than for day flights from 2017/18.”
They argue the move seems ‘designed’ to increase demand for night flights, which they claim is not consistent with the Government’s policy on night noise from aircraft. Instead, they urge Mr Grayling to ensure that the airport puts in place arrangements that ‘firmly disincentivise’ night flights, as required by current Government policy and guidance from the Civil Aviation Authority.
Currently, night flying restrictions are divided into summer and winter seasons and consist of an air traffic movement limit, which is either a take off or landing, and a quota count system.
The quota count means that points are allocated to different aircraft types according to how noisy they are. The noisier the aircraft, the higher the points allocated, providing an incentive for airlines to use quieter aircraft.
These limits apply between 11.30pm and 6am. Current restrictions were set in 2006, and allow more night flights in the summer season (British Summer Time) than in the winter season (Greenwich Mean Time) due to the seasonal demand.
At the moment the airport has a winter limit of 3,250 movements and a 2,000 quota points, while limits in the summer are raised to 1,1200 and 6,200 respectively – neither is allowed to be breached.
The MPs fear the increased demand resulting from lower charges is being encouraged by the airport ahead of a review on limits next year.
However a Gatwick spokesman said: “Gatwick has consulted on a range of improvements to night flight charges and there are no plans to increase the number of night flights which is set by the Department for Transport.
“Gatwick already adheres to a strict night flights limit and is committed to a charging system which incentivises operators to use quieter aircraft.”
Tom Tugendhat, MP Tonbridge / Crispin Blunt, MP Reigate / Sir Paul Beresford, MP Mole Valley / Nus Ghani, MP Wealden / Nick Herbert, MP Arundel and South Downs / Jeremy Quin, MP Horsham / Henry Smith, MP Crawley / Sir Nicholas Soames, MP Mid Sussex
Tunbridge Wells MP Greg Clark was unable to sign the letter due to collective Cabinet responsibility