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Air's a crowd;The big picture

(Photograph) - As familiar in the capital as the scavenging pigeons or the catarrhal growl of traffic, planes are filling the skies above London as never before, setting new records for the number of passengers flying into the city.

In July, more than 10 million people travelled to London's major airports, up 7 per cent on last year. The holiday surge pushed the annual total of arrivals by air towards 100 million.

The number of flights into London is also soaring now running at almost 76,000 a month with this time-lapse photograph showing the queue of planes waiting to land at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted airports over nine hours.

It is estimated that at any one time, more than 13,000 passengers are flying above London - a small town in perpetual transit - a population that is likely to grow as pressure builds for more terminals and greater capacity to meet the demand.

Already approval has been given for Stansted to expand its passenger numbers from 8 million a year to 15 million.Gatwick will also be expected to absorb up to 40 million a year. Heathrow's plans for a fifth terminal are bitterly disputed by residents worried about noise and pollution.

When Tower Bridge was opened in 1894 this picture would have been reversed - air traffic was non-existent and the river would have been crowded with ships. Such was the volume of goods delivered to this stretch of the Thames that it was known as "London's larder" - at the centre of the trading network of the largest empire in the world.

Now the ships, the empire, the docks and dockers have disappeared and planes pass above an almost empty river and warehouses that have been converted into luxury apartments and expensive restaurants.

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