The world’s jet-setting ultra-rich took a record 5.3 million private flights last year and paid a pittance in tax for the privilege—and it’s time to change that, says a new report.
Private jet flights make up around 17% of all flights handled by the United States Federal Aviation Administration, but their passengers contribute just 2% of the taxes that fund airport operations, found a report co-authored by the Washington, DC-based Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) and Patriotic Millionaires, a group of around 200 wealthy individuals pushing for higher wealth taxes.
The majority—roughly 70%— of tax revenue that makes up the aviation trust fund is financed by passengers purchasing commercial air travel. They pay a 7.5% tax on tickets, plus a head tax of US$4.50, while private flyers pay only a fuel surcharge tax of roughly $0.22 per gallon jet fuel.
That light touch on the wallets of the super-rich has a serious climate cost, as private jets emit at least 10 times more pollutants than commercial planes per passenger, the report states.
Patriotic Millionaires says policy-makers need to zero in on the sale of pre-owned and new private jets, which is forecast to hit a record-breaking US$34.6 billion by the end of 2023. A 10% tax on all second-hand jet purchases and a 5% tax on new ones would be a good start, the group says. Doing so last year would have raised a cool $2.6 billion.
The group is also pushing to at least double fuel taxes on private jet travel.
“If we can’t ban private jets, we should at least tax them and require them to pay to offset their environmental damage and subsidies,” report co-author Chuck Collins, director of the IPS program on inequality and the common good, told the Guardian.
With 1% of people believed to be responsible for about half of airline emissions, a full ban on private jet travel could be seen as a feasible—if unlikely—way to slash aviation pollution. That is exactly what climate activists demanded last week, when they disrupted the annual European Business Aviation Convention and Exhibition in Geneva, Europe’s largest private jet sales fair. Members of Greenpeace, Stay Grounded, Extinction Rebellion, Scientist Rebellion, and other climate groups from 17 countries chained themselves to gangways, affixed giant tobacco-style health warnings to fuselages, and otherwise kept the fair significantly grounded, reported Mirage News.
Meanwhile, companies specializing in first-class air transport for pets are contributing to the surge in private jet sales, reports the New York Times. For example, Luxembourg-based Luxaviation offer a pets-on-jets service, amongst other perks for its super-rich clientele.
Luxaviation CEO Patrick Hansen told a recent business summit that one year of private jet flights produces just 2.1 tonnes of carbon dioxide per person, or about the same as owning three pet dogs.
Pressed to elaborate on this calculation, Hansen referred to a 2010 book by British carbon footprinting specialist Mike Berners-Lee called How Bad Are Bananas? The Carbon Footprint of Everything which “states that a cat kept as a household pet is responsible for 310 kilograms of carbon emissions per year, and a dog for about 700 kilograms.”
But Berners-Lee told the Financial Times he was “surprised and disappointed” to see data from his book used “to defend the bogus eco-claims made by Luxaviation,” adding that the figure cited by Hansen looked suspiciously low and “must be for very short flights and very small planes.”
Luxury private jets are “a huge carbon indulgence,” he added.
And since emissions from luxury private jets are many times higher than for standard commercial flights, no rational person could argue that offsetting them can ever undo their climate damage, he added.