Politicians in France are discussing regulating or even banning the use of private jets as heatwaves and soaring energy prices focus attention on the urgency of tackling climate change. But some industry professionals say private jets are being unfairly targeted.
French Transport Minister Clement Beaune says he is looking into taxing the use of private jets to get companies and super-rich individuals to limit their short but carbon-heavy trips.
“I believe that at a national or European level, we could think about either taxation or regulation systems,” he said on France 2 TV Thursday. “It’s clear that habits will have to change.”
His tone was less strident than at the weekend when he ruffled government feathers telling Le Parisien daily that such planes had be restricted for their outsize contribution to global warming.
“This is becoming the symbol of a two-speed effort" to fight climate change, he said, adding he was "ready to act and regulate flights by private jets”.
He admitted on Thursday that measures targeting the use of private jets were likely to be “symbolic” but maintained those polluting the most had to “make a bigger effort”.
Beaune’s comments follow a growing public backlash against private jets as weeks of drought and wildfires have brought home a sense of climate urgency.
The government has also been calling for better conservation of energy in the wake of soaring energy prices stoked by the war in Ukraine.
A study last year found that private jets were 10 times more carbon intensive than airliners on average, and 50 times more polluting than trains.
The study also claimed France has the second-highest number of private jet movements in Europe after Britain, as owners whizz into Paris or down to the French Riviera.
Some social media accounts have begun tracking flights taken by a number of French billionaires.
The Twitter handle "I fly Bernard" – set up to track the flights of French billionaire and head of LVMH luxury goods group Bernard Arnault – has since started tracking more of France’s super-rich in a bid to make their “ecocidal lifestyle” more visible to the general public.
Last Friday, a private jet belonging to the Bolloré Group – which owns French media giant Vivendi – was shown to have flown three times on the same day.
A 'few' bad examples
“Open resource tools allow you to follow private jets easily, but the number belonging to billionaires and which are being finger-pointed is tiny," says Xavier Tutelman, consultant in aeronautics with Air & Cosmos.
“It's populism. A few bad examples are being used to say that all private jets are bad.”
Much depends on the number of passengers transported, he says.
“A jet that transports 10 passengers consumes 7 litres per 100km. It's a lot, but similar to a car. Whereas if you’re alone in the plane it’s 70 litres per 100km.”
While billionaires are portrayed as zipping around the country for fun, Tutelman says the majority of private jet journeys are made by professionals "carrying out urgent, essential work", such as transporting spare parts to a factory that’s broken down.
"Most are not people spending money for the fun of it.”
The Transport Minister says he doesn’t favour a blanket ban on private jets, but France’s ecologists are pushing for one.
“This measure would have an impact on a very small number of people, with immense ecological benefits,” MP Julien Bayou, head of the Green party, told Liberation daily.
He said he would soon introduce a bill to ban them outright.
Unsurprisingly, Tutelman rejects the idea of a ban that would “run the risk of damaging an economic sector that generates 100,000 jobs in France, and impact medical flights which benefit from such private jets”.
He says only 2 percent of the emissions generated by the air transport sector are linked to private jets – amounting to 0.04 percent of France's carbon emissions.
"Hitting out at something that represents 0.04 percent of carbon emissions is spectacular, it makes politicians happy, but it’s absolutely ridiculous in terms of efficiency," Tutelman argues.
Beaune has been charged with coming up with regulatory proposals and confirmed on Thursday that the issue of private jets would be on the agenda at a meeting of European transport ministers in October.
Options include requiring companies to disclose trips made on private planes, or extending the EU’s new emissions trading scheme (ETS) – part of the bloc’s efforts to cut emissions by 55 percent by 2030 – to include private jets.
There have been calls for private jets to be included in France's 2021 climate law banning domestic flights for journeys that would take less than two and a half hours by train.
Whatever regulation the government comes up with, Tutelman says it has to be Europe-wide.
“Regulation that applies only to France will be inapplicable. You could just do a little detour and fly over Germany or Italy to make your journey 'non-French' and therefore non-taxable."
Tutelman doesn’t deny the need for regulation.
“France could decide to introduce, even impose, the use of sustainable aviation fuels [SAF] which would allow us to reduce a flight’s carbon footprint by 80 percent.”
And while the high cost of such fuels means they’re not widely used, “maybe users of private jets could afford them”, he says.
The increase in demand would ultimately push down prices he argues.
Private jets could even be a motor for greener transition by speeding up the arrival of the first 100 percent electric planes, scheduled for 2025.
“We’re lucky to have these small private jets, they’re the first ones that could make this transition," Tutelman says.
“The transition is about moving over to greener planes, not banning everything in flight.”