Around 10% of departing flights from the UK are private jets

One in ten departures from UK airports are now private jets, analysis of official data after the pandemic, by the climate charity Possible, has found. In the 10 years before Covid, private jets accounted for about 7.5% of all UK departures. That rose to over 20% at times during the pandemic, and it is now about 10%.  On average the private planes carry 3 passengers. The emissions per passenger can be ten times those of the same trip in a commercial plane. In order to reduce the CO2 emissions from UK aviation, the number of private jet flights needs to be cut. Analysis of Air Passenger Duty (APD) data showed that about 20% of the smallest private jets paid no APD. A bit over 50% paid the same APD as premium economy passengers and around 25% paid the highest rate. Rather than largely being for business trips, most are now for leisure. The tax on these high carbon planes should be raised. Due to the tax on petrol and diesel, someone driving from London to Edinburgh could pay three times more tax than if they were flying by private jet.  Currently private jets attract no VAT, no fuel duty and often only a low rate of APD. 


1 in 10 flights taking off from UK are private jets

By Adam Vaughan, Environment Editor (The Times)
Monday July 17 2023

Business or pleasure? In winter more than a quarter of private flights are to skiing hotspots such as Innsbruck in Austria

One in ten departures from UK airports are now private jets, analysis of official data after the pandemic has found.

In the decade before Covid-19 hit, private jets accounted for about 7.5 per cent of all UK departures. That soared to more than 20 per cent at moments during the pandemic as scheduled flights were grounded. It has since settled down above its pre-pandemic baseline, at around 10 per cent, a report by the climate charity Possible found.

The growth in private flights poses a challenge to Britain’s 2050 net zero goal, with the planes carrying an average of three passengers or less. A recent government-commissioned report said almost all of the emissions savings needed to hit the target could be achieved by halving private jet flights.

Polling for Possible, undertaken by Survation, found that 74 per cent of people agreed that private jets should be subject to higher taxes than commercial flights, to reflect their higher emissions. Just 15 per cent disagreed, with the rest either neutral or unsure.

However, analysis of data from the Treasury and Eurocontrol, the international air safety organisation, showed that passengers on just over one in five private jets and their propeller-driven equivalents paid no air passenger duty (APD) because of how light their aircraft were. Slightly more than half faced the same APD as premium economy passengers and around a quarter paid the highest rate.

Despite the image of private jets as primarily a tool for business people, the destinations of flights suggest otherwise, Possible said. Farnborough, which bills itself as “the largest and the most pre-eminent business aviation airport in the UK”, sees more than 40 per cent of summer flights headed for Mediterranean destinations including the Balearics. In winter, more than a quarter are destined for alpine airports including Geneva.

Green campaigners said the “explosive growth” in private jet use meant the government should increase taxation on them. At present, someone driving from London to Edinburgh would pay three times more tax than if they were flying by private jet.

Robert Palmer, executive director of advocacy group Tax Justice UK, said: “It’s a big problem that private jet users pay such low levels of tax, especially when they’re responsible for such high carbon emissions. Politicians should make sure that private jet users pay a fair price for the impact that they’re having on the climate.”

The analysis by Possible was based on APD receipts published by the government and destination data released by Eurocontrol.

The think tank Green Alliance said private jets currently pay very little tax. It hosted an event last week where Ed Miliband, the shadow net zero secretary, pledged “every department in a Labour government must be a climate and nature department”.

Richard Koe of market intelligence firm Wingx Advance said travellers were using private jets “at least partly” because of airline schedules being sparser than before the pandemic.

Helena Bennett, head of climate policy at Green Alliance, said: “Flying by private jet is an extreme luxury and only a very elite few can afford to do it. Although they release ten times as much carbon per passenger than commercial flights, they don’t pay their fair share of tax. They attract no VAT, no fuel duty and the same low rate of air passenger duty as commercial air travel.”

A spokesperson for the private jet industry body, BBGA, said: “Bizjet traffic peaked at up 29 per cent in 2021 but has been falling since and is now only 5 per cent up on 2019, whereas airline traffic is still minus 15 per cent.”


How Britain became the private jet capital of Europe

Business and carbon emissions are booming in the UK, Europe’s capital for luxury air travel. Will anything limit the appeal of a plane of one’s own, asks Tom Calver

By Tom Calver (The Sunday Times)
May 27 2023

Like a general moving troops around a map, Rohan Mark Jayawardene is planning a huge logistical operation. “We have 40 movements involving UK airports between Friday and Monday,” says Jayawardene, chief executive of Diamonté Jets, a charter flight company. The stars have aligned and he must move rich passengers from Britain to the Cannes Film Festival and the Monaco Grand Prix, which have overlapped this year. He then has to deliver West Ham fans to Prague, and Manchester City supporters to Istanbul before the week is out. His standards are high. “We’re big believers in the private element of private aviation,” he says. “Everything is very discreet, and everything is tailor-made.”

Like many private airlines, Jayawardene’s business is booming. Never mind the climate emergency: the private jet has survived — and flourished — as the ultimate status symbol. Even James Cleverly, the foreign secretary, embarked on an eight-day tour of the Caribbean last week in a Succession-style Embraer Lineage 1000E, costing the taxpayer just over £10,000 an hour.

Britain has become the private jet capital of Europe, with more carbon emissions than any other nation, a report found this year. How, in the middle of a climate emergency, have we become so hooked on this form of travel?

To fly is to be free. Harriet Quimby, who in 1912 became the first woman to fly across the English Channel, wrote of her first flying lesson: “I felt as much as a child feels when riding a sled downhill.”

But today, the process of boarding an aircraft is anything but free. Instead it involves a series of confinements — from check-in to security, departure gate, then through hermetically sealed plane doors.

The private jet experience tears up that process. For one thing, the terminals are smaller. At Farnborough airport in Hampshire — the site of Britain’s first powered flight in 1908, and now the busiest private jet airport in Britain — the VIP terminal has a gym and concierge. You drive up, put your bags on a scanner and walk straight through to a lounge. Within 20 minutes, your captain will walk you to your plane.

The super-rich can do away with terminals altogether. Dr Christopher Williams-Martin, chief executive of FlyEliteJets, can get you a limo to the plane’s steps. “Some airports do require entry via the terminal, but we can usually get airline clearance for to-jet boarding,” he says. “We pre-clear them for immigration and then collect them in a limo and take them directly to the aircraft.”

For those averse to an hour-long stint on the Piccadilly line, or in traffic on the M3, he’ll sometimes throw in a helicopter transfer.

The obvious reason that private airlines have done so well in Britain — aside from our island geography — is the proliferation of rich people here. For business users, the greatest saving is time.

“The mindset has changed now,” Williams-Martin adds. “Previously, if you had meetings in Europe, you’d spend an extended stay. There would be a tiny bit of business and a large amount of golf involved. Now people want to get the business done and jet out to be back home with their families.”

This, he says, is a post-Covid thing. Indeed, the recent private jet boom owes a lot to the pandemic. Civilian flights were grounded in 2020 and data from the Eurocontrol aviation organisation shows that charter and business flights were much quicker to recover when flights were allowed to resume in 2021-22. Scheduled flights have still not recovered to their 2019 peak.

“Once you fly private once, you don’t want to go back,” suggests Clive Chalmers, vice-president of the charter team at Air Partner, a company that began as a pilot training outfit in the 1960s. As well as their regular business clients, Air Partner increasingly deals with one-off bookings — perhaps friends clubbing together for football matches or special celebrations. “There’s not much we haven’t seen,” he says. “We have every request from drinks served at exactly the right temperature to providing McDonald’s or KFC in-flight.”

Which brings us to the cost. According to exclusive data compiled by Flightradar24, in the past year the most common private flight route was Farnborough to Nice, where 1,766 flights — nearly five a day — have touched down. For the return journey, FlyEliteJets’ mobile app offers a propeller-powered Britten-Norman BN-2 Islander at £12,000 for me and up to seven guests. The journey will take 4½ hours. If I want to get there faster, in less than two hours, there is a jet-powered option that will set me back more than £20,000.

Another popular route is Luton to Paris, offered by most private airlines for about £5,000 — a price that, split with enough friends, might just be doable in three figures. The trip typically lasts 52 minutes, about 80 minutes shorter than the Eurostar train journey, although that takes you to and from the middle of each city. Incidentally, the London to Paris train route is only just outside the threshold of France’s new domestic flight ban: under new proposals by President Macron, air travel is banned for destinations reachable by train in less than 2½ hours.

Herein lies the embarrassing truth about private jet flights: most of them are short-lived. Of the 134,000 private flights made in the past 12 months, 29 per cent took an hour or less. About 8,000 flights were less than half an hour door-to-door. These include the 28-minute Jersey to Bournemouth crossing, but also the embarrassingly short 16-minute hop between Northolt — the west London airfield beloved of the late Queen — and Luton, usually to transfer to another route. Kylie Jenner was castigated for her 17-minute hop from Van Nuys in Los Angeles to nearby Camarillo and such short trips are common among private jet owners. If you fly further, you need a larger plane. Williams-Martin can get you across the Atlantic in a 12-seater Gulfstream G450, but it will set you back £120,000.

If we think big, it is easy to explain away the carbon emissions of private aviation. Air travel causes 2.5 per cent of all global emissions, with private flights producing 1 per cent of that total. Yet frequent fliers produce an overwhelming majority of air travel’s CO2 emissions.

On a per-person basis, perhaps the most polluting thing you can do is fly in a private jet, where all that fuel is burnt to transport a very small number of people. The average private flight leaving a UK airport last year produced about five tonnes of CO2; the typical European person produces about eight tonnes in an entire year.

One solution that airlines are toying with is the use of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), made from feedstocks. Christopher de Bellaigue, who has written about ways of decarbonising aviation in his new book Flying Green, wants to see a proportion of SAF set aside for private jets. “Here is the incentive investors need to pile in and ramp up supply,” he suggests.

Despite being castigated for high carbon emissions, celebrities such as Victoria Beckham are fond of posting pictures of their jetset lifestyle on Instagram

Carbon offsetting schemes, which make people feel less guilty about the carbon they are burning, are popular among private airline companies. But such schemes are not without flaws. Earlier this year Verra, the largest certifier of carbon credits, was accused of vastly overstating the emission reductions of its credits, an accusation it denies.

Williams-Martin is thinking about buying some land, “because then customers can come here and physically see what we’ve created”.

The backlash against private jets is under way: Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport has announced it will ban private jets from 2025. There is some evidence too that the high demand during the latter stages of the pandemic has eased. Yet changing attitudes towards climate change have done little to deter celebrity passengers from boasting about private jets. Chalmers is also confident that he can retain the new jetsetters who tried their services during Covid. “There’s a new market for private travel, and we’ve tapped into that,” he insists. “Those passengers will be here to stay.”