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Banning night flights would give a net economic benefit

28th January, 2011

A report by independent consultancy CE Delft was launched at the House of Commons on 27th Jan. It shows that banning night flights at Heathrow would almost certainly give a large net economic benefit.

The study looked at the economic costs and benefits using an approach called Social Cost Benefit Analysis (SCBA). This approach places economic values on costs and benefits even where there are no financial transactions or markets involved. It is particularly appropriate for public policy-making, where cost and benefits for the general public are involved as well as private costs and benefits.

It is very difficult to know exactly how airlines and passengers would respond to a night flight ban. CE Delft therefore took 3 ‘response scenarios’ which include extreme cases:

R1. All flights are rescheduled and passengers opt for other arrival times

R2. All flights are rescheduled, but only terminating and business leisure passengers (65%) will accept another arrival time; transfer passengers (35%) will no longer fly via Heathrow.

R3. All flights are cancelled and all passengers no longer travel to Heathrow.

Here are the results for a 10-year period – all figures in millions of pounds.

Scenario Costs Benefits Net benefit  
R1 250 822 572
R2 29 885 856
R3 898 863 -35


R3 is the extreme pessimistic case, where all flights and passngers are lost to Heathrow. But even here, the net cost is low. The other scenarios show large net benefits. As the real situation will lie somewhere between the extremes, it can be concluded that there would be  large economic benefits in banning night flights at Heathrow.

The biggest benefit by far in banning night flights is the economic cost of noise.  This is a benefit in all 3 scenarios. The biggest cost arises in scenario 3 where it is assumed that foreign tourists coming to Britain are lost and hence the money they bring in.  However, as CE Delft point out, the calculations make no allowance for the benefit of UK citizens not flying abroad and thus not taking money out of the UK. This is an example of how ‘conservative’ are the esimates. With less conservative and, arguably, more realistic estimates, the net benefits would be even larger.