Flying Private takes flight due to pandemic and airport pandemonium
Trigger warning: Every time I show my favorite photo of flying puppies in private, it means it’s going to be another story about the outsized carbon footprint of the super rich. Except this one is actually about private theft, and in an example of trickle down theory, it’s not just the super rich doing it anymore. Business is flying high because the very, very rich are doing it more than ever.
According to Robb Report, private jet charters could increase by more than 50% this year. There are several reasons. As one convert told the BBC, “Flying privately means our family is able to avoid the experience of airport security, airport crowds, flight rage and being surrounded by people who often don’t mask themselves properly.”
According to aviation consultant WingX, “business jets performed 3.3 million flights worldwide in 2021, the most record for a single year and 7% more than the previous high point in 2019.” And these are not particularly concerned about their carbon footprint. An aviation study found that “some individual users of private aircraft can contribute emissions of up to 7,500 metric tons per year.” which equals 450 average Americans.
Richard Koe, chief executive of WingX, notes in his May 2022 report: “Widespread disruptions and delays to the scheduled airline network are expected to sustain business aviation momentum. Aircraft owners are flying a lot more and there are signs of strong business jet usage. .”
It is a problem. In previous articles, I’ve been pretty jaded about the super rich because while they’re a tasty target, there aren’t very many of them. After all, it’s the richest 10% that emit half the greenhouse gases, the richest 1% that emit 15%, and we’re talking here about the richest 0.1% who fly in just 22,000 aircraft, including 15,547 in North America.
But that number is growing fast, and they’re racking up a lot more air miles. And these are already big numbers:
- According to one website, US private jets logged 2,699,184 flight hours in 2021.
- A Citation XLS+, a popular plane – let’s call it medium – burns 210 gallons of jet fuel per hour, giving us 566,828,640 gallons of fuel burned in private flight in 2021.
- According to the Energy Information Agency, jet fuel pumps 21.5 pounds of carbon dioxide or 9.75 kilograms per gallon burned, totaling 5,526,579 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions.
A report published last year by Transport & Environment looked at the carbon emissions of private flights in Europe, which accounts for just 13% of the global private jet fleet. The study found that private jets were, on average, 10 times more carbon intensive than commercial flights:
“Flying a small number of people in fuel-efficient aircraft, which often fly empty, will always incur a substantial climate penalty compared to commercial aviation, where low margins and competition have helped drive revenue gains. relative efficiencies over the years. These results underscore the challenge the private jet industry will have to survive in a low-carbon world.”
Compared to other modes of transport, the figures are even more extreme, showing that the emissions of private travel per passenger-kilometre are 52 times higher than those of a European train.
Many justify these thefts by saying that they are necessary business tools. A Hong Kong-based aviation lawyer told Robb Report that “planes are tools of global commerce – they can’t fly on pixie dust and neither can the global economy.” But the Transport & Environment report reveals that in Europe most of the robberies are of billionaires traveling to Nice for vacation.
“This analysis shows that contrary to industry claims, private aviation is not only used to save time in business, but also to get the wealthy to their second homes and destinations faster. Unfortunately, this means that the holiday habits of the wealthy undermine the efforts of ordinary people to reduce their emissions.The 1,000 flights between Paris and Nice in the year alone pollute up to 40,000 families taking the same holidays with a new thermal car.
In the end, the Transport and Environment report contains some interesting recommendations:
- A ban on all private aircraft flights using fossil fuels under 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) by 2030, noting that there are technical fixes on shorter range flights such as electric aircraft, green hydrogen or electronic kerosene.
- Until the ban is in place, “a ticket and fuel tax should be imposed on fossil-fuelled private jets, commensurate with the distance flown and the weight of the aircraft, to take account of their disproportionate impact on the climate”. They’re talking big numbers, at least 3,000 euros ($3,200).
- Flights should be prohibited when there are alternatives that do not increase travel time by more than two and a half hours.
Of course, the vast majority of private flights are within the United States, and there are few quick alternatives for getting from Teterboro to Palm Beach or Nantucket. But those U.S. flights in 2021 totaling 5,526,579 metric tons are equivalent to 1,201,430 cars on the road.
We spend so much time talking about electric cars, but 608,000 were sold last year, so a bunch of the wealthy in private flight spewed out twice as much carbon dioxide as was saved by every electric car sold during this year. Maybe it’s time we started talking about airplanes.