Environment

Is it time to ban private jets?

Private jets are between five and 14 times more polluting than a commercial flight.

Private jet at Orlando airport with door open

Private jets are accessible to a very small number of people globally. (Image: Yuri G/Unsplash)

Amsterdam’s main airport Schiphol is proposing to ban private jets from its terminals, in a move that may inspire other airports in Europe and abroad to take similar measures. 

Under new proposals that Schiphol is hoping to bring into effect no later than 2026, private jets will “no longer be welcome” at Schiphol to reduce air traffic and create a “quieter, cleaner, and better” air traffic system.

Ruud Sondag, CEO of Royal Schiphol Group, said in a statement: “We need to be sustainable for our employees, the local environment and the world. I realise that our choices may have significant implications for the aviation industry, but they are necessary.”

Schiphol said private jets are particularly being targeted because of the “disproportionate amount of noise nuisance and carbon dioxide emissions” they produce per passenger.

Andrew Welfle and Lois Pennington, both researchers at the Tyndall Centre for climate change research at the University of Manchester, said this was a “positive step” and could reduce the overall use of private jets.

Research published in 2021 found that, per passenger, private jets are between five and 14 times more polluting than a commercial flight and 50 times more polluting than trains.

Those who can afford the luxury of flying in style may need to make alternative travel plans in future if other airports follow suit.

Welfle and Penington told the Big Issue: “The impact of flying is an issue of equity. Less than 4 per cent of the world’s population flies every year, but the impact of aviation emissions is felt globally as a warming climate, as well as the impact of noise and air pollution.”

Althea Warrington, a senior campaigner at climate charity Possible, said the news from Schiphol was “excellent”.

“This is an essential first step towards getting the aviation industry on track to meet climate targets. As they are by far the most polluting and unnecessary flights, banning them would be a really positive step forward,” she told the Big Issue.

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A study commissioned by Greenpeace and conducted by Dutch environmental consultant CE Delft showed an increase in private jet usage across Europe since 2020, with emissions from private flights nearly doubling in just 2022 compared to the previous year – nearly 7,000, or just 0.02 per cent, of those flights came from Schiphol airport. 

Currently, all aeroplanes require fossil fuels to fly. Attempts to improve the emissions from flying using sustainable fuel alternatives have not yet been wholly successful, according to Warrington.

Aviation emissions currently account for 7 per cent of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions, an increase of 88 per cent compared to 1990.

An average commercial plane like the Boeing 747 will burn 3,600 gallons of fuel per hour while a private plane consumes between 50 and 600 gallons of fuel per hour, depending on the size and speed of the aircraft.

Schiphol airport is majority state-owned. (Image: Ben Koorengevel/Unsplash)

This may seem less, but a Boeing 747 can accommodate nearly 83 times the number of passengers of the smallest private plane, so the “per passenger impact on the environment is significantly larger than other forms of transport,” Welfle and Pennington said.

In its proposals, Schiphol said between 30 to 50 per cent of the private flights out of its airport are to holiday destinations like Ibiza, Cannes, and Innsbruck, adding that there are “sufficient scheduled services” available to people wanting to fly to those areas without needing a private flight.

Schiphol is the first airport to suggest banning private jets, but climate campaigners have been fighting for a reduction in private flights for years. Greenpeace has an ongoing petition to ban private jets, which it calls “the epitome of social and climate injustice” as the “super rich proudly accelerate the climate crisis, showing off their planet-wrecking lifestyle”.

Schiphol saw half a million commercial flights and 7000 private flights in 2022. (Image: Paul Jespers/Unsplash)

Warrington agreed: “It’s really unfair for those extremely privileged few to be able to pollute as they please even as the rest of us suffer from the increasingly severe impacts of our warming climate.”

“Flights aren’t essential for people’s daily survival. We all need to take action to protect the climate – but those with the most resources, and who are most responsible for emissions, need to act first and go further to cut back,” she added. 

While campaigners believe it is time to ban private jets for the good of the planet, Welfle and Pennington are sceptical that it will make a substantial difference: “Reducing use of private jets will undoubtedly have a positive impact on reducing some emissions to the atmosphere, but it will not reduce overall emissions.”

They said people will still fly, even if they fly on commercial services that will have less of an emission impact per-passenger.

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According to data from the French Ministry of Environmental Transition, a ban on private jets would lead to a reduction in carbon emissions of less than 1 per cent overall as commercial flights are still contributing the highest amount.

“Emissions from the aviation sector are increasing and banning private jets is unlikely to significantly influence this trend,” Welfle and Pennington said, adding that instead of banning private jets, the sector should adapt and “lead the way in embracing low carbon fuel technologies”.

“Technological advances will be fundamental if the sector is to decarbonise, but reducing travel is by far the best way to reduce the emissions from the transport sector,” they added.

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? We want to hear from you. And we want to share your views with more people. Get in touch and tell us more.

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