Three councils have lost their High Court claim that the government did not deal with the intrusive effects of aircraft noise at Heathrow at night.
London's Richmond and Wandsworth councils, and Windsor and Maidenhead in Berkshire, had challenged ministers' pronouncements on noise levels.
They wanted judges to overrule decisions on which type of plane, and how many, could land before 0600 BST.
But the High Court said the issues had been dealt with three years ago.
Mr Justice Sullivan said it was an "abuse" of the court process for the councils to launch a "root and branch attack" in relation to the same issues rather than address the compensatory measures - such as sound insulation of houses - put forward by the Department for Transport (DfT).
The judge heard that the Boeing 747-400 RR - the main type of aircraft used by airlines during the night quota period at Heathrow - had been wrongly classified at too low a noise level.
The councils argued that by not acting on the discrepancy, the government had failed in its duty to protect residents from excessive noise at night.
The judge said the Transport Secretary had acted on expert advice on noise levels. That advice was open to dispute, but he was not "setting off on some frolic of his own".
He also said the government had remedied the situation with a later consultation document aimed at mitigating the effects of night noise.
'Fight goes on'
Reclassification would have forced airlines to substitute quieter aircraft or withdraw early morning services.
There are about 16 early morning arrivals each day between 0430 and 0600.
Wandsworth Council's leader, Edward Lister, said the ruling emphasised "the current night-flight arrangements are designed for the benefit of the airlines".
"It's not clever to have drafted an important environmental policy in such a way that no-one can understand it.
"By not being explicit in its aims the government leaves the clear impression that looking after residents' interests comes a very poor second."
His counterpart in Richmond, Serge Lourie, added: "All the councils will be stepping up their call for a complete ban on night flights."
The court challenge was supported by Kensington and Chelsea, Hammersmith and Fulham, Hounslow and Hillingdon councils and the Greater London Authority.
All the councils are members of the 2M Group, which opposes Heathrow expansion.