Planes aren't essential.
"In other words, being against airport noise is not the same as being green - quite the reverse - unless you also believe/accept that air travel should largely stop. (That means a return to the days when travel, other than to go to war or to migrate, was strictly for the rich.)"
It most certainly does not. "We can't get anywhere without aeroplanes!" is a huge fallacy.
There are certain types of trip for which air travel makes sense at present: the really long haul - anything that takes, say, four hours or more in a plane. Transatlantic or trans-Pacific, east coast to west coast in the States, stuff like that.
These, however, do not make up the majority of air travel.
I decided to apply myself and actually do some research for this post, instead of just pulling the numbers out of thin air in true journalistic fashion. According to the Department of Transport's helpfully detailed and freely available statistics (nice job, DoT), in 2006, total air passengers between the U.K. and the EU-15 - the long-standing group of E.U. states - were 108,534. More specifically, the most popular destinations were, in order of popularity: Spain, the Republic of Ireland, France, Germany, and Italy.
Total flights to the entire rest of the world - destinations which could reasonably be considered long haul, including the United States - were 49,938: less than half the number of flights to short haul destinations within Europe.
And that's just international flights. If we added domestic flights, the numbers would look even worse. Unfortunately I can't find the equivalent figures for domestic flights.
Still, even disregarding domestic flights, at least two thirds of air travel to or from the U.K. is unnecessary. It is simply not true to say that air travel is the only affordable method of transportation within Europe. It is entirely within the capabilities of the E.U. to build a comprehensive, continent-wide high speed rail transport network. Even with current technology, you could do it so that most journeys would be possible within eight hours or so; with perfectly feasible upgrades to existing trains, this could be cut to five. This would bring a huge amount of benefits over air travel.
It is vastly more energy efficient (and hence environmentally friendly). According to Climate Action Network (not an entirely unbiased source, I admit, but they're not inherently biased in favour of any particular mode of transportation, just in favour of *energy efficient* transportation...), trains are around two to three times as energy efficient as planes. That's not some piddling little 20% improvement, as is always touted by 'environmentally friendly' planes: it's massively higher. We could save far, far more energy by simply using trains for travel within Europe than we could possibly save by trying to make planes more efficient.
It's a much less intrusive method of transportation. As the article discusses, plane noise is a huge problem for people unfortunate enough to live near airports. Airports themselves are awkward beasts which need to be sited close to major destinations but are too big to fit within them, forcing the development of ancillary transport networks (usually clogged-up roads) between the actual destination and the airport. By contrast, trains make very little noise, and stations can comfortably be sited at the actual destination, as with the existing Eurostar and TGV networks, saving time and effort on the part of the traveller.
Finally, it's a much more pleasant method of transportation. I hardly know anyone who enjoys flying. The ratio of plane size/weight to passengers carried being absolutely critical to the bottom line, you get crammed in like sardines. It's noisy. For most of the time on most flights, there's nothing to look at. There's no form of amusement or amenity on board. It's just an unpleasant experience all round.
Compare train travel. Size and weight aren't so important for trains, so operators can afford to give everyone a lot more leg room. The environment inside a modern high-speed train is quiet and relaxing. You get fresh air. You can look out the window and actually *see* stuff. You can go buy something to eat from the buffet car. Train travel can be a rewarding experience in itself; it's certainly not unpleasant, in the majority of cases.
It's time for the "we need planes to get anywhere!" fallacy to end. It is perfectly feasible with modern technology for the vast majority of medium-distance - up to 1000km - travel over land to be done by rail. This would be better for the economy, the environment, the general population, and the travellers. There's absolutely no excuse not to do it. Fortunately, anyone who's seen the terminal at St. Pancras - it's about ten times bigger than it needs to be to cope with the current volume of traffic - can see that at least some people are planning along these lines.