Time to ban all private jets for non-essential travel

“Alternative methods of travel are available, so banning private jets that are used for non-essential journeys isn’t ultimately about reducing liberties, rather, it is about embracing climate justice.”

Planes waiting on the runway
Planes waiting on the runway
Nick Bowett

The super-rich, and just rich, are benefitting from non-essential private jet use while others are seeing the indirect consequences in the form of lower harvests, higher costs and dangerous weather. It is time to legislate to ban private jet use, while setting out the exceptions so that private jets are only used when deemed absolutely necessary.

One per cent of the people in the world create 50 per cent of the world’s aviation emissions. Meanwhile, 80 per cent of the people in the world have never flown. According to Transport and Environment (a European transport campaign organisation), private jets are up to 14 times more polluting per passenger than commercial planes and up to 50 times more polluting per passenger than trains. Private jets emit approximately two tonnes of carbon per hour. To put this figure into perspective, the average energy-related carbon footprint of every person on Earth today is about 4.7 tonnes per year. We should be trying to drastically lower our carbon footprints, at a community and individual level, so we can endeavour to meet net zero by (at least) 2050. 

Any legislation that is brought in to ban private jet use should still recognise that the government should still be allowed to use them for emergency or national security reasons. For example, a private jet may need to be used because there has been an emergency which requires world leaders to meet promptly. However, the government should avoid using them whenever possible as lowering emissions should be part and parcel of how we function. In addition, the use of private jets could be permitted for humanitarian flights and medevac flights. 

Alarmingly, in the UK luxury private jet users are embarking on climate-destructive behaviour within the framework of a tax system that seems to look upon luxury private jet use favourably. In the UK, private jet users pay the same Air Passenger Duty (APD) as those who travel business class or first class on conventional aeroplanes. Furthermore, aviation fuel isn’t taxed. Understandably, private jets used for emergency or public service reasons don’t have to pay APD. Private jet use is growing internationally and particularly in the UK. In fact, more private jet flights took off from the UK than any other European nation in 2022. The problem of luxury private jet emissions is far bigger than many may realise because they aren’t just owned and used by the super-rich; they are often hired out to others or partially owned by others. Moreover, corporations also often have their own private jets.

At present, fossil fuels are used to power most private jets. Using biofuel doesn’t solve the problem because growing them takes up large amounts of land that could otherwise be used for carbon storage, growing food or holding biodiversity. Waste products that are made into aviation fuels are often referred to as sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs). Unfortunately, they are only ever available in limited quantities, and they should be used to power less carbon-intensive forms of transportation. 

Aviation technology progresses by the day. Private jets that are manufactured or retrofitted so that they fly using low-carbon forms of propulsion, such as electricity, should be allowed to fly. Even if eco-friendly private jets are on the horizon, a full transition to low-carbon fleets will take decades so putting a ban in place now, while mentioning rare exceptions to the rule, is the best course of action. 

In 2022, the Campaign for Better Transport called for a high APD tax to be put on private jet passengers. A ban is more appropriate. The freedom to use private jets, at will, is something people can live without. Private jet emissions should be stopped at the source because carbon offsetting and taxing, where the money attained is ringfenced for climate projects, can only get us so far. 

Banning non-essential private jet use isn’t about the politics of envy, it is about the politics of climate justice. Indeed, flying on private jets when it is unnecessary is widely seen as unfashionable now. Furthermore, many wealthy people would like to see a ban on the non-essential use of private jets. The rich, and particularly the super-rich, should play a greater part in mitigating climate change because they are in a privileged position and have more levers of power. 

Private jet use undermines the message that we should all be thoughtfully lowing our carbon emissions. The use of private jets, for non-essential purposes, constantly gives the message that we are not yet genuinely serious about tackling the climate emergency. If those at the top of society are creating carbon emissions as if there is no tomorrow, people who are less privileged see little point in lowering their comparatively small carbon footprints. Private jets also significantly contribute to localised noise and air pollution problems. It isn’t fair that working people and pensioners are stepping up and paying green levies to make Britain more resilient to climate change, while carefree private jet users are unrelentingly worsening the climate crisis.

Private jets that are clearly being used for luxury travel should be grounded because we should endeavour to stabilise the climate so that the long-term future of the human race is protected. Those who have bigger carbon footprints should now realise that they must dramatically lower their carbon footprints. Alternative methods of travel are available, so banning private jets that are used for non-essential journeys isn’t ultimately about reducing liberties, rather, it is about embracing climate justice.