Regulated planes or taxed planes?  - Trends-Trends on PC

Regulated planes or taxed planes? – Trends-Trends on PC

Governments are uncomfortable with the summer controversy over CO2 emissions from private jets, which are deemed excessive. It also embarrasses the business aviation sector… which is defending itself.

“We felt that it was going to happen”, assures a specialist in the Belgian aeronautical sector who knows the world of private planes well. “The question comes up among our members and staff, who feel pilloried.” The controversy over the inconsistent use of private jets, those of LVMH CEO Bernard Arnault or the Paris-Saint football team -Germain, has developed in recent weeks. Some politicians have already put forward proposals. In Belgium, Nadia Naji, vice-president of Groen, imagined imposing 3,000 euros in taxes on each flight. In France, their outright ban was even desired by Julien Bayou, national secretary of the Greens.

“We felt that it was going to happen”, assures a specialist in the Belgian aeronautical sector who knows the world of private planes well. “The question comes up among our members and staff, who feel pilloried.” The controversy over the inconsistent use of private jets, those of LVMH CEO Bernard Arnault or the Paris-Saint football team -Germain, has developed in recent weeks. Some politicians have already put forward proposals. In Belgium, Nadia Naji, vice-president of Groen, imagined imposing 3,000 euros in taxes on each flight. In France, their outright ban was even desired by Julien Bayou, national secretary of the Greens. Emissions from private planes are specially targeted because they turn out to be much higher, per passenger, than those from a commercial plane. According to an oft-cited report by the NGO Transport & Environment, “private jets are 5 to 14 times more polluting than commercial planes”. In Belgium, the Federal Minister of Transport, Georges Gilkinet (Ecolo), also considered that it was necessary to react, betting however on a European approach. He met his French counterpart, Clément Beaune, who has the same point of view, so that they tune their violins before an upcoming meeting of European transport ministers. But on the subject, we doubt that France is really aggressive. “We can make the bill galore, but it will not change anything, they will put their jets elsewhere, would have said President Emmanuel Macron, quoted by the Canard enchaîné. In terms of efficiency, it will be the head of Toto A social policy that hits only the richest, we have already seen the result: the richest leave.” “Initiatives have however already been taken”, argues our Belgian interlocutor quoted above, who himself takes care of a private aircraft club: “A charter was signed by the sector at the international level in 2009”. It has set itself a goal of zero net emissions by 2050. And this via several approaches, such as the use of SAF fuel (sustainable fuel) based in particular on frying oil, but also less greedy engines and carbon offsetting measures. “In our club, we already fully offset emissions by investing in reforestation projects,” continues our witness. Belgium has several dozen business jets. According to EBAA, the European industry association, 106 aircraft were based with us in August 2022, including 66 jets. A figure to be compared with the 500 listed in France and 801 in Germany. Their most frequent destinations are Paris, Geneva and Nice (see graph). The most used airports? Zaventem, Antwerp, Kortrijk, Charleroi and Liège, with a total of 25,982 movements (take-offs and landings), up compared to 2019 (before covid). A progression that continued until last August. It is this growth that has moved some observers, all the more visible since it is enough to have an app like Flightradar24 to track these flights, according to their registration, from a simple smartphone or PC. Thus the long-haul Bombardier Global 7500 registered F-GVMA was particularly “tracked” by Internet users, attributing its flights to trips by the CEO of the LVMH group, Bernard Arnault. This growth seems to be the consequence of the multiple restrictions taken in the context of the fight against covid, and the elimination of a number of scheduled flights. Many companies have discovered this type of transport on this occasion. Many wealthy individuals who do not themselves own aircraft have also discovered the pleasures of the jet, sometimes rented for up to 4,000 euros per hour. More than an environmental fight, the controversy could therefore also take on the appearance of class struggle. Except that there is a wide variety of private flights. And not all of them carry stars or billionaires. For example, medical transport represents 4% of private air movements in Europe. And many others are actually charter flights for companies or sports teams, which does not really differentiate them from a regular flight. Brussels Airlines thus regularly transported the Red Devils. And if an Airbus wears the colors of the national football team, it is also used on the company’s regular network (registration OO-SNA for those who wish to follow it…). Similarly, the PSG team had been singled out for a short Nantes-Paris flight, but chartered planes are usually used for much longer international trips. In addition, some companies have jets to connect factories or operating areas that are sometimes very difficult to reach via a conventional flight. One thing is certain, the multiplication of security constraints in regular commercial flights over the past 30 years has made the use of private aircraft more attractive. In particular because of the reduced boarding times. At Brussels National Airport, the ExecuJet (Luxaviation) and Aviapartner terminals are located far from those for scheduled flights. Travelers park their vehicle just in front, about a hundred meters away. According to FlyingGroup, a Belgian operator that rents this type of aircraft, the time saved is 127 minutes per flight. “I recognize that there are sometimes abuses, believes our expert interlocutor. Each plane is intended for a certain use, and traveling in a Gulfstream (long-haul private jet, Editor’s note) for a journey of less than an hour, it’s an aberration. It’s like taking the bus to go 200 meters.” But the most popular device is not a jet: it is a Swiss-made single-engine propeller, the Pilatus PC-12. It carries up to 10 people and emits 260 kg of CO2 on a Brussels-Paris trip, compared to 1.21 tonnes for the long-haul Bombardier Global 7500. A recent car will emit a good fifty kilos over the same distance . On the hot seat, the European association EBAA also published a press release recalling the efforts made since 2009. “For example, over the last 15 years, emissions per hour, flight and business aircraft have decreased by 35%.” The EBAA argues that measures against business jets “could simply deter the industry from operating and developing sustainable technologies”, adding that the sector employs almost 400,000 people in Europe “and contributes almost 90 billion euros to European GDP”. For Belgium, EBAA speaks of 2,300 jobs and 2.4 billion euros. But the NGO Transport & Environment seems to have taken the EBAA at its word. It proposes that from 2030, regulators prohibit the use of private jets, except hydrogen or electric, for flights under 1,000 km. For more distant destinations, it asks that planes be fueled with e-kerosene, produced in particular using water and air. By 2030, the same NGO proposes taxing conventional kerosene, imposing a fee of at least 3,000 euros per movement and using the money collected to develop more sustainable flight technologies. It won’t be easy. On the one hand, electric planes are currently having a hard time taking off: the MIT Technology Review recently indicated that a 19-seater electric plane could still not exceed forty kilometers of autonomy, given the current weight of the batteries. On the other hand, e-kerosene is still experimental. Still, the means enjoyed by business aviation could contribute to developing cleaner planes more quickly, especially if there is regulatory pressure. As the Financial Times headlined, “Don’t ban private jets, make them the test bed for greener aviation.”

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