Newcomers note it and regulars resent it: why do so many flights in and out of Tbilisi airport operate at night?
Is it true – first of all – that so many flights take off and land at night? The answer is: only partly so. A study of the weekly schedule of the Georgian Civil Aviation Authority (GAAC)(1) reveals that 52% of all international flights out of Tbilisi every week at the end of March took off between 3am and 9am whereas 44% of flights took off between 9am and midnight. The difference between day and night flights is not as pronounced as some may think.
What’s remarkable though is that only about 10% of international flights which took off between 3am and 9am did not fly to geographical Europe (including Istanbul). The distribution of destinations was more even during the day: between 9am and 9pm, international flights taking off from Tbilisi airport in March were as likely to fly to other European cities (incl. Istanbul) as they were to destinations South and East of Georgia. This resentment against night flights out of Tbilisi airport is most likely a bias of Westerners or travelers heading West. The question we’re left with is then: “Why do so many flights to Europe leave at night?”
In the following graphs, the thickness of the lines reflects the flights’ frequencies. Night time flights connect Georgia to the rest of Europe more than daytime ones do. Source: (1).
Why do so many flights to Europe leave at night? The short answer is “curfews and connecting flights”. Taking off at night in Tbilisi lands you in Europe not only at a time during which landings are allowed, but also at a time convenient to catch connecting flights to onward destinations (short-haul to the rest of Europe or long-haul to North America).
Interestingly, night curfews in place in European airports are critized by other, mostly developing countries. In a working paper of the United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO, http://www.icao.int/), 53 African states condemn night curfews(2):
The issue of night curfews imposed at some airports particularly in Europe, has brought
about increased operational problems and financial burden for African airports which are kept open for operations at odd hours, since North bound aircraft are forced to depart Africa usually from midnight in order to arrive Europe after dawn by 6:00 a.m.
And conclude that:
Removing the night curfews of some international airports of Europe will significantly
reduce the night congestion of a lot of African airports.
India essentially does the same(3):
Unilateral night curfews are an increasing phenomena all over the world and as noise
awareness grows, night curfews, if imposed by countries like India or South Africa,
would limit the flight timing options between the countries. The present night curfew
in Europe has effectively transferred the problem of night-time noise burden from the
communities around their airports to communities around airports of Mumbai, Delhi,
But a paper presented later on (in 2013) by the Secretariat of the ICAO lacks any specific or constraining recommendations(4): don’t expect the situation to change anytime soon.
(1) Flight schedule for Tbilisi airport for the period Oct. 26th, 2014 to March 28th, 2015 at http://gcaa.ge/eng/tbilisiout.php. Only flights still scheduled in March 2015 were considered.
(2) “AIRPORT CONSTRAINTS: SLOT ALLOCATION & NIGHT CURFEW”. Presented by fifty-three African States, September 2008, paragraphs §1.3 and §2.8, http://www.icao.int/Meetings/ceans/Documents/Ceans_Wp_061_en.pdf
(3) “REVIEW OF NIGHT CURFEW RESTRICTIONS”. Presented by India, September 2010, paragraph §3.2.2). http://www.icao.int/Meetings/AMC/Assembly37/Working%20Papers%20by%20Number/wp270_en.pdf
(4) “NIGHT FLIGHT RESTRICTIONS” at the 6th meeting of the Worldwide Air Transport Conference (ATCONF). Presented by the Secretariat, 18 to 22 March 2013, http://www.icao.int/Meetings/atconf6/Documents/WorkingPapers/ATConf6-wp008-rev_en.pdf