Frankfurt The World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos is the meeting place for the world’s economic and political decision-makers. And for private jets. Around 500 flights are attributed to the WEF each year. The environmental organization Greenpeace recently analyzed how much CO2 emissions this causes: it was around 7,400 tons in 2022, four times the value in other weeks.
Short distances, hardly any passengers, comparatively high consumption: Anyone who travels with their own plane is increasingly facing public criticism. And thanks to various tracking apps, it is easy to follow the movements of individual aircraft. This applies above all, but not only to celebrities.
The US student Jack Sweeney, for example, has been recording the flights of Tesla boss Elon Musk’s Gulfstream G650ER since 2020. According to his calculations, there were 134 flights last year – whether with or without Musk on board is not known.
In July last year, the digital agency Yard analyzed data from the Twitter account “Celebrity Jets”, which has since been blocked, and compiled a list of the ten biggest climate sinners. Pop singer Taylor Swift was number one, followed by boxing legend Floyd Mayweather and rapper Jay-Z.
The climate activists’ fight against emissions also gets into trouble those who need the private plane for their business: entrepreneurs and managers. The fastening and assembly technology company Würth was criticized in mid-January. According to several media reports, the seven company-owned aircraft will take off an average of one hundred times a month in 2022.
“We are concerned that we will be lumped together,” says Andreas Mundsinger, Managing Director of the German Business Aviation Association (GBAA). The companies would use the planes as a means to an end, not for fun.
Commercial airlines have withdrawn from the area
Many medium-sized companies in rural areas do not have much choice when it comes to their choice of transport. The pandemic has accelerated the withdrawal of commercial airlines from the area. According to data from the airport association ADV, the smaller and decentralized airports were particularly badly affected in the summer of 2022. There are also no direct connections to the high-speed rail network in many places. However, attendance appointments that cannot be postponed do.
The pandemic has thus fueled the demand for flights in private aircraft. Never before have private jets flown as frequently as they did last year. The experts of the information service WingX Advance from Hamburg counted a good 5.5 million take-offs of private jets worldwide in 2022, almost 700,000 more than before the pandemic in 2019. According to the European aviation security authority Eurocontrol, 94,317 take-offs with private aircraft were registered at German airports last year , also more than before the pandemic (85,439 starts).
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Despite the image problems, the jets are in demand. According to Mundsinger, it is now almost impossible to find used business aircraft. This also has to do with a decision by the US government under ex-President Donald Trump to significantly expand the write-off options for machines.
The boom has consequences: According to Transport & Environment – an umbrella organization of environmental organizations with a focus on transport – the CO2 emissions per passenger and kilometer are ten times higher for a private aircraft than for a commercial airliner.
Incorrect information floating around about tax benefits
In the sometimes emotional debate about private and business jets, however, the facts sometimes get mixed up. For example, it is not correct that the use of private aircraft is generally exempt from tax. This only applies to commercial airlines whose core business is to offer private flights to external customers.
According to GBAA Managing Director Mundsinger, 34 percent of flights with business aircraft are not commercial traffic: “These are company traffic from companies such as Würth, Herrenknecht, BMW, Viessmann, Brose, Liebherr or other companies. These companies fill up with taxed kerosene, so they are not tax-exempt.”
The low exemption limit for emissions is also criticized. If an airline operator exceeds these, it must purchase emission rights certificates. For commercial airlines the limit is 10,000 tons, for non-commercial it is 1000.
According to Mundsinger, the members of the GBAA would have no problem at all with stricter rules: “We wouldn’t mind if emissions trading started with the first ton.” But the EU Commission does not want to change the specifications so far. The members would therefore not resist being taxed at a flat rate in the future.
Despite the additional costs that would then threaten, many companies would probably not do without their factory fleet. They depend on it and are already spending a lot of money on it. The shareholders of the airport in Friedrichshafen include, for example, numerous companies, from ZF Friedrichshafen to DADC Aerospace Holdings GmbH, which belongs to Airbus, to MTU. Würth operates its own airport in Schwäbisch Hall.
Companies are considering their own SAF production
Where available, the expensive synthetic fuel SAF, which is more environmentally friendly, is used in business jet tanks. But companies have realized that they have to do more to avoid being constantly criticized by climate protectionists and activists.
The GBAA has developed the so-called combination certificate. Anyone who purchases such a quote as the user of their own aircraft finances projects that compensate for the emissions. On the other hand, it also provides money for the development of new technologies.
“Companies are ready to invest in sustainable aviation,” says Mundsinger: “The airports have large brownfield sites. We have the vision of producing SAF there in a decentralized manner, for example with the help of photovoltaic systems installed there.”
The criticism of climate protection seems to be having an effect. Also because there are now fewer flights again. It is true that significant growth was seen in 2022, says Mundsinger. But there was already a setback in the last quarter of the year.
And the message seems to have gotten through to Davos too. The WingX information service has found that fewer participants traveled by private jet to the World Economic Forum in Davos this year than in 2019.
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