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Private jets as big polluters as pets, executive says


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A private jet executive has rejected criticism that his industry was a prime greenhouse gas emitter, claiming that pets polluted as much if not more as demand for the luxury transportation soars.

Patrick Hansen, chief executive of Luxembourg-based Luxaviation, told the FT’s Business of Luxury summit in Monaco that one of his company’s customers produces about 2.1 tonnes of CO₂ per year, or about the same amount as three cats — before a spokesperson rectified offstage that he meant three dogs.

The industry was aware about the urgency to limit its carbon footprint but the data must “be put into perspective,” Hansen said during a panel discussion on Tuesday. He added that private flights were “not going away, because they provide a service of time” to the wealthy.

Hansen said later he was referring to data published in a book by Mike Berners-Lee, a British academic, called “How Bad are Bananas”. It states that a cat kept as a household pet is responsible for 310kg of carbon emissions per year, and a dog for about 700kg.

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Berners-Lee said in an email that he was “surprised and disappointed to hear data from my book being used to defend the bogus eco claims made by Luxaviation.” He raised doubt over the 2.1 tonnes figure provided by Hansen, saying that it looked “suspiciously low” and “must be for very short flights and very small planes.”

“The simple reality is that the emissions from luxury private jets are many times higher than for standard commercial flights. Nor is it reasonable to claim the climate damage can be undone by so-called ‘offsetting’,” he added. “Luxury private jets are a huge carbon indulgence.”

Private jet companies have benefited from booming demand since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, when the ultra-rich sought to avoid crowds and restrictions. Despite all travel restrictions being lifted, the trend is set to continue as high-spenders seek more personalised and luxurious travel experiences, according to industry experts. Global demand for private jets has risen more than 14 per cent since before the pandemic, according to industry data.

Hansen said the “inflow of new clients in the private jet market” last year had compensated for the loss of clientele from regions affected by air travel restrictions linked to Russia’s war on Ukraine.

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Meanwhile, climate change activists and policymakers have called for measures to penalise private flights to help curb global warming. Last month, Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport sought to ban private jets from flying in and out of the Dutch capital after its runway was stormed by climate activists. On Tuesday activists at Geneva airport disrupted Europe’s flagship business fair for private jets.

According to a 2022 Oxfam report private jets’ carbon footprint is at least 10 times greater than that of commercial airlines. This means one per cent of the world’s population is responsible for half of the aviation industry’s total emissions, according to the charity. This was backed by a study by Transport & Environment, an EU NGO, which estimated that private jets were emitting 5 to 14 times more greenhouse gases per passenger than commercial flights.

Hansen said the industry did “not want to be ashamed with our children” and was taking steps to both offset and limit its emissions.

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Some industry experts have suggested that sustainable fuels such as biofuels made from vegetable oil and synthetic fuels, could replace traditional carbon-based ones. Boeing chief executive Dave Calhoun dismissed biofuels in an interview, saying they would “never achieve the price of jet fuel”.

Hansen said the availability of biofuels was extremely limited across the globe so the air travel industry could not rely exclusively on low-pollutant options.

“Of course, when we flew people to the COP26 in Edinburgh, we made sure those jets were filled exclusively with sustainable fuels,” he said.

According to Hansen, hydrogen and electric engines for planes will be a more sustainable alternative to combustion engines in the longer term. In the near future, however, Luxaviation, is advising clients not to fly on private jets for very short distances.

“Sometimes it’s just better not to fly. We tell our customers, don’t fly from Paris to Lyon.”

On Tuesday, in a move to cut emissions, France banned domestic short-haul flights for which alternatives by train already exist, including routes such as Paris to Nantes, Bordeaux and Lyon.

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