On the face of it, the first passenger flight of Boeing's Dreamliner jet could hardly be expected to have environmentalists jumping for joy. With aviation blamed for 2 per cent of global carbon emissions – and warnings of a "multiplier" effect from exhaust belched at high altitudes – the green lobby, not unreasonably, has mass air travel firmly in its sights.
The Dreamliner, however, may be part of the solution. Never mind the cosmetic changes to cabin lighting and air pressure. The real revolution is an aeroplane body shell made largely of carbon-composite, rather than aluminium, cutting fuel consumption by anything up to a fifth.
All we need now are similarly dramatic advances in the development of aviation biofuels. Then the benefits of mass air travel might just be possible without the unaffordable environmental price tag after all.