New Report - Business Aviation Under Pressure
This time, we investigate the burgeoning concerns about business aviation in the age of sustainability and the growing pressure from climate groups.
According to European NGO Transport & Environment (T&E), private jets are five to fourteen times more polluting than commercial planes on a per-passenger basis and 50 times more polluting than trains.
As a result, T&E advocates banning fossil-fuel-powered private jets from 2030 for journeys under 1000 km and a high carbon tax in the interim. If anything, that’s a more moderate demand than most climate change groups, who want to see private jets banned completely.
The backdrop to this has been a year of sustained protests and activity against business aviation and private jet users that frames business aviation as a sign of wasteful excess by the ultra-rich, contributing to climate change.
For example, the Summer of 2022 saw many celebrities branded “climate criminals” on social media for flying on private jets, often for relatively short distances.
Then in late 2022 and early 2023, environmental campaigners turned up at private aviation terminals worldwide, calling for private jets to be banned for climate reasons.
Finally, in April 2023, environmentalists celebrated their first significant victory when Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport announced that private jets would be banned from 2025.
Why is private aviation getting so much criticism when industry spokespeople constantly point out that its total share of emissions is low compared to commercial airlines?
What response should the sector be taking? Is there scope for business aviation to become a sustainable aviation laboratory where new technologies are tested first? And which next-generation aircraft makers are developing executive jets?
Key takeaways from the report
The past year has seen increased private jet flight shaming. This has been directed against celebrities and business tycoons, who have been called out for perceived excessive private jet use.
Environmental groups have turned up at business aviation terminals more regularly. Banning private jets is one of their three demands, along with a frequent flyer tax and enhanced carbon taxation for aviation. Crucially, these protests have taken place in the United States and Europe and have also involved the disruption of industry conferences. The activists are doing this to advance wider arguments about aviation and climate change. General and business aviation is simply being painted as the poster child for a sector that they see benefitting relatively few people while emitting much carbon.
Amsterdam Schiphol’s Airport recently became the first major hub airport to ban private jets (from 2025). This was one of a series of “people first” measures, including a night flight curfew. Greenpeace and other environmental groups have celebrated this as a success.
In France, there are discussions to place a 70% tax on private jets. French Govt spokespeople justify this as a measure that affects few people but helps cut industry emissions. At the same time, some left-leaning political parties in Europe have been trying to introduce anti-private jet legislation.
The industry is responding in one of two ways:
1. The first is to show that business aviation does not account for many emissions when measured as a % of the total. This approach will need to be more effective.
2. The second is positioning the sector as a hothouse of new non-fossil fuel technologies. This is a much more promising road to go down.
The major private jet operators and charter companies have a variety of sustainability programmes in place. Primarily they consist of 100%+ offsetting and the ability to purchase sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).
Out of the private jet manufacturers, Embraer is working towards a post-2030 hybrid-electric aircraft concept suitable for business aviation. Meanwhile, Gulfstream and Embraer are both working towards 100% SAF certification for their existing jets.
There are several next-generation aircraft manufacturers producing executive versions of their planes, notably Eviation with the ‘Alice,’ eVTOLs or air taxis will also have a business aviation appeal, though for relatively short distances.
Given that the aircraft flying right now are not 100% SAF certified and the supply is unevenly distributed, there are corporate book-and-claim systems in operation.
Overall, we conclude that the targets the business aviation sector sets are not ambitious enough, especially given public sentiment and the pressure from policymakers.
If business aviation wants to be a test bed for newer technologies and non-fossil-fuel flight, there needs to be a much more radical programme in place.
Download the full report here.
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