The UK’s economic competitiveness would be seriously damaged by a total ban on night flights at Heathrow, Iata warned.
Important export industries and regional growth would both be affected, according to the airline trade body.
Iata said early morning arrivals were “vital for passengers’ business connections into London and the UK regions”.
“Early morning arrivals are particularly important for onward connections for same-day appointments and meetings, or for rapid freight delivery,” the association said.
“Just-in-time manufacturing processes, lack of consumer patience to wait for goods, and time and temperature sensitive shipments such as pharmaceuticals and fresh produce, mean air cargo is a crucial link in the transport chain.
“Late night departures are important for UK business, facilitating these vital cargo exports.”
The Airports Commission is proposing a six and a half hour total ban on flights at Heathrow.
Night flights are currently allowed, but subject to a strict quota managed by the Department for Transport.
The airport is currently restricted to 5,800 take-offs and landings a year between 11:30pm and 6am compared to its 1,300 daily scheduled flights.
Iata director-general Alexandre de Juniac said a ban would create an “enormous restraint” on passenger and cargo flights, the Daily Telegraph reported.
“When you make projections into the future, you see that restricting the number of arrival and departure hours will be a significant restraint on long-haul destinations such as Asia,” he said.
“This is bad because traffic will only increase from Asia and the relationship between Heathrow and Asia should be increasing significantly.”
De Juniac said he appreciated local communities would be concerned about noise and pollution but that Heathrow was already well behind its rivals in Europe and risked falling further back if a total night ban was implemented.
“Heathrow is already at a competitive disadvantage compared to key hub airports in Europe in terms of aircraft movements in this time period,” de Juniac said.
“Heathrow has 42 arrivals and no departures and has fewer flights than Amsterdam, Paris Charles de Gaulle, Munich or Frankfurt. Madrid has an incredible ten times the number of flights.”
With a third runway, night flights could be rotated between runways to reduce the impact on nearby communities, de Juniac added.
The expansion of Heathrow is being debated by MPs now after the transport committee warned in March the airport risked losing a legal challenge against its third runway unless it met conditions on landing charges, pollution and public transport.
The airport recently finished a ten-week consultation on plans for expansion.