Every day, circling around London and the home counties, there are thousands of people stuck in aeroplanes waiting to land at our overloaded airports.

Many are trying to land at Gatwick, probably the busiest airport in the world with only one runway.

Last year I was coming back from Belfast when the captain confidently announced the journey would take about 45 minutes.

It took more than twice that as we looped round Gatwick, waiting for a landing slot, before coming down in a fashion that made the passenger next to me put his hands over his head.

There hasn't been a serious accident at Gatwick for 30 years. But I wonder how much longer this enviable record will last.

The queues to land cannot be good news and forecasts are they will get worse over the next decade.

Increasing prosperity and the mushrooming of cut-price airlines mean even more people are being tempted to fly.

There's been a big expansion at Stansted and a fifth terminal is likely to be approved at Heathrow. But even that will not cope with all the demand.

For years there has been an agreement between the authorities that there should not be a second runway at Gatwick. But for the sake of safety, it might be better to have that runway and reach a new agreement about passenger numbers.

It might also be possible to disperse passengers to other airports, possibly through differential charging. Plenty of people travel to Gatwick from the west country when it would be more efficient and better for Sussex if regional airports such as the one at Bournemouth were expanded to meet their needs.

Even little Shoreham could be used more for small planes making journeys to the Channel Islands, northern Europe and other parts of Britain.

There are also wider questions about whether an expansion in air travel should be encouraged. These do not usually receive wide publicity since powerful people who make decisions have a vested interest in flying quickly to their destinations.

Apart from the safety question, there is the issue of pollution in the upper atmosphere caused by jets.

Unless someone can invent an alternative way of fuelling jets which does not cause pollution, this problem is likely to worsen and some environmental groups are becoming extremely concerned.

More publicity has been given to the cattle truck conditions many charter airlines impose on their customers. The air quality is often abominable as travellers with breathing problems have found to their cost.

Delays are frequently unacceptable with people having to wait hours without reasonable explanation.

Planes are so much quicker than any other form of travel for long-distance journeys that it is futile to consider an alternative. But for shorter runs, such as going from Gatwick to Paris or Brussels, Eurostar vies with it in speed and is far more civilised.

We need to have an urgent debate about the future of airports, especially in the South-East, and what can done to alleviate the problems. Otherwise I fear that sooner rather than later we will have a Hatfield of the skies disaster and the questions will be asked when it is too late for those who have perished.