Close call

4th September 1998 at 01:00
(Photograph) - If you go down to the beach today, you're sure of a big surprise. If you go down to the beach today you won't believe your eyes. They don't mention it in the brochures, but Air France's once-weekly, unwelcome fly-by has, perversely, become something of a tourist attraction on the Caribbean island of St Martin.

Planespotters get an eyeful but unsuspecting sunbathers - those who haven't noticed the discreet sign warning: "Low-flying and depart-ing aircraft blast can cause physical injury" - get sand kicked in their faces by the turbulence from the 250-ton jumbo jet as it passes 30 feet above their heads before touching down on the runway behind them.

In a way it's their own fault. The jet that is shattering their expensively acquired peace and quiet (a week's bed and breakfast at the island's top hotel can set you back a couple of thousand pounds) is probably the very same one that took them there. But that's the price you pay for package tourism.

Worldwide, air traffic has doubled in the past 10 years and is expected to do so again in the next decade. In England, campaigns against the building of the second runway at Manchester Airport and London Heathrow's terminal 5 have centred on the environmental effects at ground level, but the real damage is done way up in the sky. Vapour trails look pretty but high-flying aircraft also give off nitrous oxide, contributing to the greenhouse effect. Jet travel makes the world a smaller, warmer place. So, if it's tropical temperatures you're after, a day trip to Brighton might soon have to suffice.

Harvey McGavin

Turn to page 34 for Ted Wragg's Teaching Tips on the Big Picture

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