"Plane crazy" is an over-used headline for aviation stories, but it was appropriate for The Mirror's front-page lead on Monday. In case you missed the piece, it began: "A jumbo made a pounds 100,000 transatlantic flight carrying just one passenger. Stuart Pike, 33, travelling from New York to London, had the run of the 400-seater British Airways jet when all the other passengers transferred to another flight because of a fault. After being waited on by 17 stewards and stewardesses, he said: `It was the most relaxing and pleasant flight I've ever had.'"

A jolly bank holiday yarn, then - but not as innocuous as it seems. Indeed, the tale raises a series of questions. For example: how come all the other passengers could fit on to the second plane? Can British Airways really do no better than half-fill its transatlantic 747s, even in the busy Easter season?

Any scheduled airline would answer this question by saying the whole point of a schedule is to offer guaranteed departures, no matter how few passengers choose to travel. BA no doubt believes its six jumbo flights a day between Heathrow and New York give it a competitive edge over other airlines.

So flying hundreds of empty seats across the Atlantic can be construed as good news for shareholders. If enough first- and business-class passengers pay several thousand pounds for the privilege of flying BA, it matters little that seats at the back of the plane are vacant.

What works for airlines, though, is not necessarily good for the planet. Transatlantic aircraft burn hundreds of tons of fuel at high altitude. The worst offender - making more noise, consuming more fuel and causing even more pollution than the biggest Boeing 747 - is Concorde.

The supersonic aircraft still flies twice a day at twice the speed of sound, whizzing 100 high-spending travellers between Heathrow and New York. Or rather, 100 seats. Two other stories this week involved the ageing jet. In both cases, a fault caused the plane to return to New York. The number of passengers affected? Fewer than 50 in each case. Readers in the south of England, regularly assailed by the deafening noise of Concorde's military engines should know that if the two daily departures were combined, the loudest plane in the sky would still not be full.

The other intriguing snippet that the stories revealed was that BA keeps a spare Concorde parked at Kennedy airport, just in case. Few other airlines can afford the luxury of spare capacity. Apparently, though, British Midland can. The airline has lent a Boeing 737 to John Major for his use during the election campaign.

Two more questions: would the plane otherwise be sitting around idle? And how many potential passengers will defect from British Midland to the non-partisan Air UK -flying British-made BAe 146s, quieter and more economical than the American Boeing?

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