A fierce controversy has arisen in France over the use of private planes. While the ordinary citizen is encouraged to save energy, the company planes fly happily. It arouses anger and control.
Corporate use of private jets has been under fire for some time. In France, social media accounts closely monitor the flying movements of the great French entrepreneurs: @iflybernard or @laviondebernard have recently gained many followers. The Bernard in question is Bernard Arnault, the luxury pope of the LVMH group, whose private jet is closely followed. In the past two years, Arnault flew back and forth between Paris and Brussels no less than fifteen times, a trip that can easily be made by high-speed train.
Some business managers bake it very brown. The plane belonging to the Bolloré group flew Paris-Palermo, Palermo-Nice, Nice-Paris, Paris-Toulon and back in one day. It is not clear whether media magnate Vincent Bolloré was on board. Another notorious frequent flyer is François-Henri Pinault, Arnault’s great rival (see the image below).
The French tracking sites mimic similar initiatives in the United States. Business leaders such as Jeff Bezos from Amazon and Mark Zuckerberg from Meta are closely followed.
In a summer that is far too hot due to climate change, and with the frequent calls for frugality in energy consumption, flying by private jet is nothing more than raising the middle finger. It is an almost cynical way of breaking all the rules in CO2to ignore emissions with impunity.
Tracking business leaders also sparked another discussion. Don’t people like Pinault, Bolloré or Arnault have a right to privacy? Yes, but the question is whether a company aircraft’s flight data is covered by the rules on the protection of personal information. The planes are all in the name of their companies – it is tax-interesting – and the argument is often that it is not necessarily the CEO who allows himself to fly, but that it is about flights with senior employees. With this argument, the right to privacy also disappears.
In the French newspaper Le Monde, Suzanne Vergnolles, who is a doctor of law, points to the right to information. Flight trackers not only track business executives and other celebrities, but often have obvious targets. For example, a tracker tracks the landings of private jets from authoritarian regimes in Geneva.
Last Sunday, the political secretary of the French Greens, Julien Bayou, floated the idea of ”banning” or at least taxing private jets so that they no longer fly. Minister of State for Transport Clément Beaune took up the gauntlet. He promised a legislative framework for private aircraft on Monday. According to Beaune, it would be better if Europe came up with it, but he would like to start with a French regulation.
That did not sit well with his boss, President Emmanuel Macron. He called on Wednesday to limit the number of proposals and first agree in the government on what is and is not possible. According to the president, it is not wise to ‘suggest anything and everything’. Observers saw it as a clear reference to Beaune. But not that week. On Thursday, he repeated that ‘at national and European level’ it is possible to think about systems to regulate private air traffic.
At national and European level, systems for regulating private air traffic can be considered.
Beaune received support from former climate minister Barbara Pompili. “The efforts we must make together to adapt to climate change and the energy crisis are important. To make them acceptable, we must not be led to believe that efforts are reserved for some while others are exempt,” she tweeted.
The left wing of the ‘macronia’ is looking for a place of its own with these proposals. Not only to oppose the left-wing opposition, but also against the right-wing in its own ranks.
One of the options to enforce the sustainability of private jets is mandatory electrification in 2030. If the smaller planes are electrified, the emissions will be zero. It is, of course, a radical move.
Another option is to tax kerosene, the tax-exempt jet fuel for commercial and business use. In Europe, proposals to introduce a tax of 33 to 38 øre per litres. If such a proposal passes, that tax will come first for business jets. Commercial flights will have a longer transition time.
Such a tax would generate significant revenue: 2 billion euros from 2025 and even 5.4 billion from 2050. The only problem: like any tax measure, the consent of all Member States is required. The chances of that happening are slim. Countries such as Cyprus and Malta, which are heavily dependent on air traffic, are against it.
Lobby groups also oppose any tax. GIFAS, the French aviation lobby group, issued a communique on Wednesday stressing that air traffic accounts for only 2 percent of global CO22caused emissions. Commercial air traffic accounts for 10 percent of all air traffic or 2 percent of emissions, so ultimately 0.04 percent of all CO22emissions, it said.
In order to make climate action acceptable, we must not be led to believe that the effort is reserved for some, while others are exempt.
Commercial air traffic is increasing rapidly. Between 2005 and 2019, it increased by 33 percent. In 2021, the number of private jet flights was 22 percent higher than in 2019. The Corona pandemic was no stranger to this. At the time, there were restrictions on commercial air traffic and there were fears of pollution on commercial flights.
In France, private air transport provides direct and indirect employment to more than 100,000 people. With Dassault, France also produces the well-known Falcon jets. GIFAS points out that 80 percent of all private jet flights are for business purposes. The rest is divided between government flights, medical flights and proper private flights.
This data is difficult to verify. According to the NGO Transport & Environment, the ten most polluting private flights in 2019 included a striking number of French destinations: Moscow-Nice, Le Bourget (Paris)-New York, London-Nice and Le Bourget-Nice. More pleasure than business, it seems.
The center of gravity for private use of aircraft is not in Europe, but in the United States. More than 70 percent of private aircraft are operating there. And there is serious flying.
The absolute champion turns out to be the singer Taylor Swift. According to marketing agency Yard, its aircraft would have completed 170 flights between January 1, 2022 and July 29, 2022. This meant the plane was in the air for more than 15 days and emitted eight times more CO in six months2 than an average person in a year. Swift disputes the numbers, saying her planes are also “frequently loaned out.”
It only becomes a real pity when well-known environmental activists also turn out to be ardent aviators. According to the American magazine Newsweek, Steven Spielberg would have completed 16 flights between 23 June and 22 August. In 2018, the well-known film director stated: ‘I am afraid of global warming. Global warming is a scientific reality, not a political ploy.’ He added that “everyone should be held accountable” for their role in global warming.
‘Jetshaming’, it’s becoming a trend. Anyone who has a company jet has been warned.