Private jets are aircraft designed by manufacturers to transport a small group of people. They cater to people who want to skip lines at the airport (and other people), avoid air traffic, and fly to locations, or at times, unavailable on commercial flight schedules.
Private jets range from very light jets holding a few people to larger jets holding up to 14 passengers. There are also VIP jets that can transport large groups, like sports teams.
Private jets offer extreme convenience, but it is at the expense of the environment. This article explores private jets' early origins, environmental impacts, and potential solutions. It also explores the difference in environmental impact between private jets and commercial carriers.
The Wright brothers invented the very first powered plane in 1903. Dr. Hans von Ohain and Sir Frances created the first plans for private jets in 1930. In 1950, the Lockheed Jetstar was the first jet dedicated to business use.
In 1963, Bill Lear introduced a line of private jets known as LearJet 23 to fulfill the private travel needs of executives and VIP individuals. Soon enough, other aircraft companies started producing private jets.
The early versions of private jets lacked comfort. Manufacturers primarily focused on their speed to transport private individuals to their desired locations faster than commercial planes. As years passed, they improved their comfort and luxury styles.
In 1966, Gulfstream introduced Gulfstream II to the market, which could hold 19 passengers comfortably. Business jets entered the market in 1990, allowing business owners to travel privately and quickly. There was also a rise in the purchase and ownership of private jets.
Now, many celebrities in the music and entertainment industry celebrities own private jets alongside businesses. Even business executives, athletes, and wealthy people now own one or multiple jets. Many consider private jet ownership a symbol of wealth, success, and prestige.
As convenient as private jet travel is, it hurts the environment. Manufacturers of these jets and their owners appear to care little about these impacts in favor of their convenience and status. However, let's explore the negative impact of the private jet industry they may well have chosen to ignore.
Private jets mainly affect the atmosphere by releasing greenhouse gas emissions, specifically carbon dioxide. Jets’ carbon impact contributes to climate change.
Does this mean commercial aviation doesn’t have a carbon footprint? Commercial airliners similarly release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, but far less per passenger than private aviation. Most people take only a few commercial plane trips every year, whereas private jet owners tend to use their planes often, at a higher environmental cost.
Also, ticketed airplanes carry a lot of passengers, while private planes carry a few passengers. Also, private jet owners take unnecessary short trips that a car or commercial plane could handle. The result of more flights carrying fewer people is a more significant carbon impact per trip.
First, how does the aviation industry produce tonnes of CO2? Most jets and airplanes use jet fuel, also known as jet gasoline. Just like any fossil fuel-powered transportation, the engines burn fuel and expel carbon dioxide during trips. CO2 represents 70% of the exhaust emitted from planes. In 2018, the aviation industry produced 2.4% of global carbon emissions1.
The amount of fuel burned on a trip varies, given the various private jet models. For instance, the Cessna Citation XLS jet burns 857 liters of jet gasoline per hour. So, a 2 hours and 45 minutes journey uses about 2,356 liters of fuel, and 2.52 kg of CO2 enters the atmosphere for every liter of fuel burned. So, a trip that uses 2,356 liters of fuel releases 5.9 tonnes of CO2.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) states that the CO2 emissions multiplied by 1.9 represent the maximum impact. In other words, the total emissions for this flight would be 11.3 tonnes of CO2. With five passengers on board a private jet, the average person’s emission for this trip would be over two tonnes.
The United Kingdom's private jet usage contributes to carbon emissions ten times higher than a journey made by an economy-class flight. The emissions are also 150 times more than those released by a high-speed train for the same trip.
We are experiencing heat waves, drought, heavy floods, and climate crises, contributed to by private jet emissions. Excessive CO2 in the environment leads to an increase in temperature, and it harms many life forms.
Many celebrities are associated with using private jets as owners or renters. Yard, a digital agency, analyzed the private jet usage of a number of celebrities using publicly available flight tracking data. Whereas it appears that some of the celebrities have countered their findings since publication, they remain pretty staggering.
Of the celebrities they tracked, including famous names like Taylor Swift, Steve Speilberg, and Oprah Winfrey, they found that their private jets emitted over 3000 metric tons of carbon emissions each on average during the first half of 2022. And with an average time in the air across all the recorded flights of just 71 minutes, these emissions amount to over 400 times that of an average person’s annual emissions.
Some environmental activists are pushing for a blanket ban on private jets, but it is not a workable course of action. While some private jet use may be unnecessary, they still play a critical role in aviation.
Frequent fliers can make a conscious effort to reduce their private jet usage. Instead of relying on jets for every trip, they can consider alternative modes of transportation, such as commercial flights or trains. For shorter distances, electric or hybrid vehicles can be used.
Manufacturers should invest in research and development to produce planes that emit fewer pollutants and are more fuel-efficient. Governments and aviation regulatory bodies can also incentivize the adoption of cleaner technologies by offering tax credits and subsidies to companies that produce aircraft without a disproportionate climate impact.
Here are some potential solutions to reduce carbon emissions produced by private jets;
Although commercial and private aviation is the same mode of transportation, certain features differentiate them. Features such as amenities, space, privacy, cost, and boarding regulations vary. Owning or chartering a private jet is more expensive than boarding all classes of commercial airplanes.
Another key difference between private aviation and commercial planes is the damaging impact on the environment. Private jets have a significantly higher carbon footprint per passenger due to fuel consumption and emissions.
Flying private is generally less efficient than flying on conventional commercial airliners. Private jets often fly with fewer passengers on board, which means the emissions per person are much higher. In contrast, commercial airlines can transport hundreds of passengers in a single trip, which is a much more efficient use of fuel and resources.
The impact of a single private jet is significant, and the cumulative effect of all the emissions from private aviation appears substantial. In contrast, commercial airlines are subject to more rigorous regulations and operate in a generally less damaging way.
However, neither is without fault. Every flight contributes significant emissions, and with many commercial airlines flying partly empty some of the time, emissions per passenger can quickly increase.
Not flying at all when we have the choice will remain the best choice for the environment until such a point in the future when air travel is emission-free.
Overall, the effect of private aviation on the environment should be a consideration when deciding whether to fly privately or take a commercial flight. While private jets offer luxury and convenience, the impact of private air travel on the environment should be weighed against the benefits of flying privately. Choosing a coach seat on a commercial flight may be a more environmentally friendly option for those concerned about private aviation.
In conclusion, the disproportionate impact of private jets is a significant concern that we cannot ignore. While private jets offer luxury, comfort, and convenience, we must consider their carbon footprint and damaging environmental impact. The aviation industry needs to prioritize developing and adopting more eco-friendly private jets that emit fewer pollutants and are more fuel-efficient.
Individuals can also make a conscious effort to reduce their private jet usage and opt for more sustainable modes of transportation when possible. By taking these steps, we can minimize the effect of private air travel on the environment and work towards a more sustainable future. Ultimately, it is up to all of us to make responsible choices and take action to protect our planet and ourselves - including those who can afford and choose private jet travel.
Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI), E. A. (2022, June 9). Issue Brief | the Growth in GHG Emissions From Commercial Aviation (2019, Revised 2022) | White Papers | EESI. Issue Brief | The Growth in Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Commercial Aviation (2019, revised 2022) | White Papers | EESI. Retrieved March 5, 2023
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.