Around one percent of the population are responsible for 50 per cent of aviation emissions.
No queues, no last-minute cancellations, no awkward clambering over your seatmate to get to the loo – for anyone who’s endured a commercial flight, a private jet might sound like a dream.
But these luxury planes have a stunning environmental cost. And their popularity is increasing.
According to new research, there were a record 5.3 million private jet flights in 2022, while the total private fleet expanded to around 23,000 aircraft.
Sales of the jets are forecast to reach $34.6bn (£27.6bn) this year, the High Flyers 2023 report shows, up from $34.1bn (£27.1bn) in 2022.
The jets are “symbols of excess”, the report warns – and ought to be taxed much more heavily.
“No one needs a private jet to travel from point A to point B,” they said.
How bad is flying for the planet?
Most jet owners are unimaginably wealthy. The median net worth of a full and fractional private jet owner is $190 million (£151 million) and $140 million (£111 million) respectively, the report suggests.
The average private jet emits two tonnes of carbon an hour – a fifth of the average UK citizen’s annual carbon footprint, and four times the average carbon footprint of someone in Ghana.
With just a handful of passengers, the average private jet flight emits at least 10 times more pollutants per passenger than a commercial plane.
For short haul flights, this disparity is even more pronounced. Take, for example, a passenger on a private jet flight between New York and Washington – about 340 km, or the flying distance between London and Paris.
“A passenger on a private jet [on this route] is responsible for approximately 45 times as many emissions as a passenger on a commercial plane flying the same route, and more than 1,100 times the emissions of a train passenger,” the report authors warn.
Just one per cent of the world’s population were responsible for half of global carbon emissions from aviation in 2018, a study found. Nearly nine-in-ten people did not take a flight last year.
The High Flyers report singles out Elon Musk for particular criticism.
The Twitter CEO and billionaire took 171 flights in 2022 – nearly one flight every two days. These trips emitted a staggering 2,112 tons of CO2 emissions, 211 times the total average carbon footprint of a UK resident.
Musk has been shamed on Twitter by student programmer Jack Sweeney, who created several automated accounts to track the flight path of celeb private-jet owners.
After acquiring the platform, Musk banned these accounts on the grounds of personal safety. They have since been reinstated, with updates published 24 hours late.
Kylie Jenner faced a Twitter storm after she took a three minute flight in the middle of last year.
How should we regulate private jet flights?
The High Flyers Report calls for a tax on private aviation.
In the United States, normal fliers effectively subsidise private jets. Private jets accounted for 17 percent of the flights handled by the country’s aviation authorities – but raised just two percent of the tax revenue.
Patriotic Millionaires – a group of rich Americans calling for higher wealth tax, and a co-author of the report – urged the government to place a five per cent tax on new private aircraft sales, a 10 per cent tax on all second-hand purchases, and a doubling of fuel taxes.
These initiatives would have levied more than $2.6 billion (£2.1bn) in tax last year.
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