Environment

Tax the jets: Record number of private jet flights last year, report shows

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.

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.

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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.

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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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