Why popular flights may have peaked

FLIGHT - I love it. While others I know react with suppressed panic to that moment when you accelerate down the runway, I still get a real buzz of excitement.

FLIGHT - I love it.

While others I know react with suppressed panic to that moment when you accelerate down the

runway, I still get a real buzz of excitement.

After hundreds of flights, the exhilaration of simply being in the air remains as strong as ever.

I love travel anyway, seeing different places, different landscapes, different ways of life. Seeing them from above, trying to judge heights and distances, seeing the earth's curvature, the different qualities of dawn and sunset light - these are among the most magical experiences.

The Alps, the north African desert, the coastline of Spain and the canals of Venice have thrilled me as much from the air as the ground.

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Part of the pleasure comes from knowing that for most of human history, such a view of the world was simply impossible.

We now take it for granted that we can fly to the Mediterranean in the time it would take us to drive to Birmingham. Almost within living memory the journey to Colchester would have taken nearly as long.

One of my favourite days out is to the air museum at Duxford. The Spitfire and Hurricane may be relics of history to us (history, of course, with a still powerful local significance), but compare them with the wooden-strutted, wooden-propellered craft that took to the skies in the First World War.

There the planes stand, side-by-side, and it is quite awe-inspiring to realise that the colossal

development from one to the other happened over barely 20 years.

And, of course, two decades before that, most people probably still believed powered flight was an impossible dream.

Today, only 101 years after Orville and Wilbur Wright's maiden flight, the dream is revealing a nightmare aspect that the brave pioneers could not have imagined.

Whatever would the brothers have made of modern Stansted - not to mention Heathrow, Schiphol or Chicago O'Hare?

On the back doorstep of my Suffolk home I can scarcely look up without seeing a plane in flight, as reported in the Star's Air Fair campaign.

In fact, being directly under a main flightpath doesn't bother me in the least. I rather like it.

I certainly can't understand my near-neighbours who seem to think it's a problem. You can barely hear the planes over the near-constant noise of road traffic - another thing our recent ancestors would have found hard to believe.

But for those who live in the surrounding villages, the impending growth of Stansted is a very genuine concern. And the craziest thing about the expansion plans is that the huge rise in air traffic can't go on. In another 20 years we may find the lovely Essex countryside has been tarmacked over for a very short-term purpose.

For the real danger with powered flight is how much oil it burns. Aviation fuel is already a major concern for environmentalists worried about global warming.

From their point of view, the prospect of oil supplies running out may look like a godsend. For the rest of us, it will mean rising transport costs - especially in oil-guzzling air travel.

Bargain airlines are great just now, but the rock-bottom fares can't last. By the time the inquiries, the planning and the building are complete, the new runways will be well on the way to white elephant status.

It's been an awfully big adventure, but after a soaraway century, the history of popular flight may be reaching its peak.

Meanwhile, can I have a window seat, please?

WHICH two addictive drugs each cause more deaths, disease and disaster than all the others put together? That's right, alcohol and tobacco.

So, let's see, what shall we do? Oh yes, let's ban one of them. In pubs.

Well, OK, passive smoking is a killer - but if the government wants to protect its citizens from

second-hand smoke, there's somewhere else they should start.

There'd be no point making it illegal to smoke at home - how could such a law be enforced?

But here's a thought, which could make a campaign slogan: Parents who smoke at home are abusing their children.

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