Virgin Atlantic began daily flights to Nairobi this weekend. It's the latest route to reveal the reality that an increasing number of us are flying further and more often despite heightened awareness of climate change. For, while airlines are sufficiently concerned about the environmental impact of flying to have established a Sustainable Aviation group to set targets for reducing emissions, holidaymakers appear unwilling to forego flying. As Virgin chairman Sir Richard Branson, launching the new route, pointed out: "Around 500,000 people fly to Nairobi each year to enjoy Kenya's scenery and wildlife."
New long-haul routes this year will include another from Virgin - Mauritius in November - and Canada-based budget carrier Zoom Airlines has just begun twice-weekly flights from Gatwick to Bermuda and will fly daily from Gatwick to New York from 21 June.
Worldwide, the number of flights is increasing 5 per cent a year, giving a monthly total of more than 2.5 million, meaning 114,000 more flights this June than a year ago and almost 18 million additional seats. Flights to and from Britain increased 7 per cent over the year. Numbers travelling between the UK and India doubled to more than two million between 2004 and 2006 and weekly direct flights between the countries tripled to 112.
The development of budget long-haul flights will only exacerbate the trend. Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary has pledged to establish a long-haul airline in three to four years, and South-East Asia is increasingly within range of carriers promising lower fares. Oasis Hong Kong Airlines began services between Gatwick and Hong Kong last October and is expanding its fleet. Malaysian carrier Air Asia has promised budget fares between London and Kuala Lumpur from this autumn.
The arguments for and against airport expansion will be played out at the public inquiry into the expansion of Stansted Airport, which began last week. In the meantime, airlines are preparing for a step change in long-haul flying with the launch next year of the Boeing 787 "Dreamliner", capable of flying from London to Perth or Hawaii without stopping. Tim Jeans, managing director of Monarch Airlines, said: "The 787 will take things to the next stage. The long-haul market will grow."