Opinion: The huge impact of private jets

By Jeremy Williams

A mile down the road from my house is Luton Airport, currently Britain’s fifth largest airport. When it comes to private jets, however, it’s number one – or at least it was pre-pandemic. More private jets come and go from Luton than from any other UK airport, with Harrods Aviation and Signature both based there.

Luton Airport plans to expand using a mechanism called Green Controlled Growth, which I’ve written about elsewhere. But private aviation cannot be squared with any kind of sustainability goals. Private planes have an enormous climate impact.

Not all flights are equal, as Real World Visuals explain. A 747 flight from London to New York creates 200 tonnes of CO2. If that is divided between all the passengers, that’s 572kg each. Except that business class and first class passengers use more space, and are therefore less efficient and more polluting. A first-class ticket on the same plane uses 2,835kg – and why some have suggested ending first class as a quick-win way to reduce aviation emissions.

The emissions from first-class seats are knocked into a top hat by the emissions of private planes. Take your own jet to New York, and you’re looking at over 25 tonnes of CO2.

A global fair share carbon footprint, as a reminder, is around 2.3 tonnes per year. That’s what we should all aspire to, each if we were to pursue an equitable world at 1.5 degrees of warming or less. So one transatlantic flight in a private plane hoovers up a decade’s worth of fair carbon.

Or to put a global justice spin on things, the average carbon footprints in Haiti are around 0.26 tonnes a year. Taking a private jet, just once, has roughly the same impact on the planet as 100 Haitians do in a year.

This is why climate action needs to start with the rich. It’s why aviation campaigns ought to start with private planes, and among the several dozen reasons why Boris Johnson needs to sort himself out. It’s why we should take Bill Gates’ advice on the climate with a pinch of salt when his private plane habits emit an estimated 7,400 tonnes of CO2 every year. And it’s why Luton Airport needs to choose whether it wants to be sustainable, or whether it wants to serve the billionaires.

First published in The Earthbound Report.

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