According to the executive, private jets are as big polluters as domestic animals

The head of a private jet has rejected criticism that his industry has been the number one emitter of greenhouse gases, saying pets are polluting as much, if not more, as demand for luxury transport soars.

Patrick Hansen, CEO of Luxembourg-based Luxaviation, told the FT. Business of Luxury Summit In Monaco, that one of his company’s clients produces about 2.1 tonnes of CO₂ a year, about the same as three cats – before a spokesperson on stage corrected him that he meant three dogs.

The industry was aware of the urgent need to limit its carbon footprint, but the data “needs to be put into perspective,” Hansen said at a panel discussion Tuesday. He added that private flights “will not go away because they provide a time service” to the rich.

Hansen later said he was referring to data published in British academic Mike Berners-Lee’s book How Bad are Bananas. It states that a pet cat is responsible for 310 kg of carbon dioxide emissions each year, and a dog for around 700 kg.

Berners-Lee said in an email that he was “surprised and disappointed to hear that information from my book has been used to defend Luxaviation’s false environmental claims.” He expressed doubts about the 2.1 tonne figure given by Hansen, saying it looked “suspiciously low” and was “for very short flights and very small aircraft”.

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“The simple reality is that luxury private jets emit many times the emissions of conventional commercial flights. It is not even reasonable to say that climate damage can be repaired by so-called “offset”, he added. “Luxury private jets are huge carbon emitters.”

Private jet companies have benefited from booming demand since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, when the ultra-rich sought to avoid crowds and restrictions. Despite the easing of travel restrictions, this trend will continue as big spenders seek more personalized and luxurious travel experiences, industry experts say. Global demand for private jets is up more than 14 percent from pre-pandemic levels, according to industry data.

Hansen said an “inflow of new customers into the private jet market” last year compensated for the loss of customers from regions affected by air travel restrictions related to Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, climate change activists and policymakers have called for measures to penalize private jets to curb global warming. Last month, Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport wanted to ban private jets from flying in and out of the Dutch capital after the runway was stormed by climate activists. Activists at Geneva airport on Tuesday disrupted Europe’s flagship business fair for private aircraft.

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According to a 2022 Oxfam report private jets have at least 10 times the carbon footprint of commercial airlines. This means that one percent of the world’s population is responsible for half of the total emissions from the aviation industry, the charity says. It was behind the study Transport & Environment, an EU NGO, estimates that private jets emit 5 to 14 times more greenhouse gases per passenger than commercial flights.

Hansen said the industry “doesn’t want to be ashamed of our kids” and is taking steps to offset and limit its emissions.

Some industry experts have suggested that sustainable fuels, such as biofuels made from vegetable oil and synthetic fuels, could replace traditional coal-based fuels. Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun dismissed biofuels in an interview, saying they would “never reach the price of jet fuel.”

According to Hansen, the availability of biofuels is extremely limited around the world, so the aviation industry cannot rely solely on low-emission options.

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“Of course, when we flew people to COP26 in Edinburgh, we made sure that those planes were only fueled with sustainable fuel,” he said.

According to Hansen, hydrogen and electric aircraft engines are a more sustainable alternative to internal combustion engines in the long term. However, for the foreseeable future, Luxaviation advises its customers not to fly very short distances by private jet.

“Sometimes it’s better not to fly.” We tell our customers not to fly from Paris to Lyon.”

On Tuesday, France banned short-haul domestic flights for which there are already alternatives by train, including the Paris-Nantes, Bordeaux and Lyon routes, in a bid to cut emissions.