Heathrow seeks to ban night flights amid quest for third runway
Heathrow has announced plans to ban night flights in an attempt to boost its bid to build a third runway.
The airport revealed the measure as part of a package designed to reduce the impact of expansion on the local community and the environment.
It is supporting the introduction of an independent noise authority, and pledged not to add new capacity unless it can do so without delaying UK compliance with EU air quality limits.
The west London hub also revealed it would accept any Government decision to rule out building a fourth runway in the future.
In July last year the Airports Commission recommended that a third runway should be built at Heathrow alongside a "significant" package of measures to make Heathrow's expansion more acceptable to nearby residents.
Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye has written to Prime Minister David Cameron, claiming that the airport's proposals meet and go beyond the commission's requirements.
The letter stated: " I am proud to submit a comprehensive plan that meets and exceeds your demands. This is a big commitment from us, but it is the right choice for the country, local communities and jobs across Britain.
"We have acted now to let you and your government make the right choice, in the long-term interest of our country. It will enable you to choose Heathrow and secure a stronger economy and Britain's place in the world."
There is currently no ban on night flights, although there is a limit of 5,800 take-offs and landings between 11.30pm and 6am each year.
The commission recommended a ban on scheduled night flights between those times, but Heathrow has proposed that the timings should be from 11pm to 5.30am.
John Stewart, chairman of the main anti-Heathrow expansion group Hacan, said: " Heathrow's decision to move on night flights could turn out to be significant.
"Hacan has long campaigned for a ban on flights before 6am, but things have remained the same for decades. Heathrow's proposals may prise open a door on night flights that has been firmly closed for 25 years."
In December the Department for Transport confirmed that the commission's shortlisted options - new runways at Heathrow or Gatwick, or extension of an existing runway at Heathrow - were "viable".
But it also announced that further work on noise, pollution and compensation - which it expects to be concluded "over the summer" - will be carried out before it makes a decision on which project to support.
London's newly-elected mayor Sadiq Khan's manifesto stated that he would oppose a third runway at Heathrow.
He pledged to continue to call for expansion at Gatwick as a "more viable, cheaper and easier to build alternative" even if the Government pursues the Heathrow option.
The Commons' Transport Select Committee published a report last week which urged ministers to set out a clear timetable for airport expansion after claiming the arguments for and against increasing aviation capacity "have changed little in a quarter of a century".
Two air quality monitoring stations near Heathrow have average annual concentrations of NO2 above legal limits.
Airport officials insist that "by far" the greatest contribution to local air pollution in the Heathrow area arises from non-airport related road traffic.
Heathrow has pledged to create an ultra-low emissions zone for airport vehicles by 2025 and develop an emissions charging scheme for all vehicles accessing the airport.
Mary Creagh, chair of the Commons Environmental Audit Committee, welcomed Heathrow's support for a ban on night flights and the introduction of an independent noise authority, but said the proposals to tackle air pollution "need to go much further, much faster".
Gatwick's chief executive, Stewart Wingate, said Heathrow has "constantly failed the environmental tests" and claimed the public and politicians "won't be fooled by yet more warm words".
He added: " Rather than circling around a failed solution that will never happen, we should get on with something that can actually happen - only Gatwick can deliver for the UK.
"Heathrow can promise many things but they cannot wish away the reality of its location.
"An expanded Heathrow will newly impact hundreds of thousands of people currently not affected by aircraft noise - an expanded Gatwick would impact less than 3% of this number."