I Posed as a Private Jet Customer. This Is What I Was Told About Emissions

This is Naked Capitalism fundraising week. 164 donors have already invested in our efforts to combat corruption and predatory conduct, particularly in the financial realm. Please join us and participate via our donation page, which shows how to give via check, credit card, debit card, or PayPal. Read about why we’re doing this fundraiser, what we’ve accomplished in the last year,, and our current goal, strengthening our IT infrastructure.

Yves here. It should come as no surprise that the private jet customers who have enough of a concern about their the CO2 cost of their flight to make inquiries get reassurances that are at best unverifiable and at worst insults to intelligence. However, rich people are surrounded by vendors and service people who are happy to cater to their vanity and desire for comfort, from investment professionals to wine merchants to plastic surgeons. Admittedly in nearly all these areas, the customer is at an information disadvantage and thus can easily be made a mark (consider the super wealthy IM Doc patients who see Dr. Moonbeams who have them on crazy regimens of hormones and dietary supplements and special potions).

And it’s not as if the vehicle cited to the prospective private jet passenger, that of carbon offsets, isn’t a scam despite its often positive press. But had one of these well-heeled customers spent a few minutes on a search engine, they would have found the mainstream media is catching up with the carbon offset grift. From the Washington Post in Airlines want you to buy carbon offsets. Experts say they’re a ‘scam.’:

Almost every major airline has an offsets-based program. Passengers are sold the idea that their share of carbon emitted during a flight can be essentially canceled out by paying to support programs that theoretically reduce an equivalent amount of emissions. Currently, the aviation industry is estimated to be responsible for around 2.5 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions….

There’s growing scientific consensus that the vast majority of carbon offset programs are unlikely to achieve any level of the emission reductions they promise. And some worry that the industry’s reliance on offsets may, in fact, be making aviation’s climate impacts even worse….

Customers should be skeptical about any offsetting programs offered to them,” said Jo Dardenne, director of aviation at the nongovernmental organization Transport & Environment, which campaigns for clean transportation regulations. And many appear to be; only 1 to 3 percent of passengers buy carbon offsets, according to estimates from the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which represents the world’s biggest airlines….

“Unlike how they’re presented to travelers, offsets are not really quantified, verified tons of emissions reductions,” said Barbara Haya, research fellow at the University of California at Berkeley’s Center for Environmental Public Policy. Instead, they’re programs that might do some environmental good but ultimately lead to “hard-to-estimate emissions reductions.” Haya said, “In today’s offset market, those reductions are dramatically overestimated.”

Airlines, like anyone purchasing offsets on the carbon market, rely on third parties to ensure the quality of the offsets they purchase. “Airlines are not typically carbon market experts,” said Michael Schneider, assistant director of environment programs at IATA. “They’re not developing those projects. They’re basically buying from a broker.”

Dardenne likens it to paying someone else to go to the gym for you. “How can I be sure that this person is actually going to the gym? How can I be sure that this person wasn’t already going to go to the gym, anyway?”

That’s even before getting to yet another version of cheating: selling the same offset multiple times.

So the short version is that high end customers are being sold the same sort of “you can have your climate cake and eat it too” blather sold to lowly commercial passengers, just with a lot more actual damage and more pricey guilt alleviation.

By Rob Bryher. Originally published at openDemocracy

The UK private jet market has seen explosive post-pandemic growth, such that one in ten flights departing UK airports are now on private jets. A recent report by the organisation Possible, where I work, showsthere were 90,256 private jet departures in the UK in 2022 – a shocking testament to the government’s failure to rein in the industry’s climate impacts.

If you are someone with enough capital to fly a private jet, you might not be thinking of the cost to the planet – but you should be, given the need to cut emissions in order to meet our 2050 climate targets.

Private jet flights produce 20 to 30 times the emissions of an ordinary flight per passenger and are a luxury very few people can afford. Yet the impact of these carbon-intensive short-haul flights seem to go over most people’s heads. That may be because private jet companies like to tout their environmentally-friendly initiatives to combat those emissions and do their part for the climate emergency.

These initiatives include alternatives to kerosene, such as sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), which are deemed to be less polluting, or their work to offset emissions by funding environmental feel-good schemes in the global south.

The problem is that SAF is not as sustainable as you’d think – SAF has to date not been used at scale or with enough frequency to curb any emissions and lessen the overall environmental impact, while carbon offsetting has been proven to be a greenwashing tactic that isn’t being done well enough to actually offset anything.

The PR machine employed by various private jet companies is eager to deflect from this truth, but I wanted to know if I could find out what really goes on behind the scenes of the aviation industry by pretending to be their target market.

As such, it was necessary to pose as an assistant to a super-rich, jet-setter client who also voiced a particular interest in the emissions from their potential charter jet.

What I Did

I set about emailing around 89 private jet companies that have recently operated in the UK. I wanted a flight for my client from London to Paris – the heaviest-trafficked private jet route in Europe. The range of prices initially quoted ranged from £4,208 to £91,148 (a typical return flight on a commercial airline is £100 to £250).

In particular, I wanted to know about each company’s carbon offsetting initiatives and their forays into SAF as methods of curbing emissions.

These are the two questions we asked:

  • Will your company start using electric planes at any point in the next five to ten years?
  • What is your company’s current approach and future plans for addressing the emissions from the flights you sell?

In its response to the question on emissions, Avcon Jet said: “If the client chooses to offset 125% then this flight is totally carbon neutral.” Meanwhile, Acropolis Aviation uses the slogan “conscience cleared for take off” on its website. This all sounds great if you decide not to take a peek under the hood.

Discussing offsetting, Executive Jet Charter rightly told me “the emissions are unfortunately unable to be removed from the flight as this technology is yet to be discovered”. The spokesperson also included a ‘sad face’ emoji at the end of the sentence, which only partly made me believe they really cared about the future existence of human beings on this planet, before going on to pitch the company’s existing offsetting scheme.

Acropolis and Air Charter Scotland both use carbon offsetting giant South Pole, a company that was this year forced to deny allegations it had overestimated the benefits of its projects and claimed up to 30 times more carbon credits than it should have done.

Another company, PrivateFly, said: “Whereas most people offset 100% of their emissions (and bill you for it) we offset 300%. We don’t charge for this as all members have their carbon offset paid for by ourselves meaning you can fly guilt free.” No explanation was given for the 300% figure or what projects this supposed offsetting was going to.

For an industry with a collective need to have one voice around its carbon neutrality position, there was a surprising amount of disjointed, confused and contradictory information given.

At times, there was a candid recognition of the problem. Private jet company Saxon Air writes on its website: “It is clearly unwise for aviation to rely on future technologies to create a ‘just in time’ solution to the environmental problems created by the industry’s reliance on fossil fuels.”

The company Victor did provide me with a detailed response on the SAF it had purchased. Nevertheless, it was hard not to think it might have misunderstood the term “sustainable” when it became evident the fuel it proposed using is produced from “100% animal fat”, which would apparently reduce emissions by 74.72% compared to regular jet fuel.

The UK Department for Transport’s (DfT) own assumption is that on average SAF can provide a 70% reduction compared to fossil kerosene, a figure that has been criticised as over-optimistic and which does not take into account the impact of non-CO2 emissions from SAF. The DfT acknowledges that SAF may not reach 70% reductions and the criteria of its SAF mandate states it must only meet 40% reduction compared to fossil kerosene.

But at least Victor had SAF. Other private jet operators responded with conflicting statements on whether SAF was available at UK airports and, if so, how many were using it. Air Partner told us that Farnborough was the only UK airport where SAF was available, E-Aviation told us it was available at six UK airports, and JetApp pointedly said: “To clarify and be transparent on this topic of sustainability, there is no available SAF at that moment due to a lack of infrastructure. This applies for every airline and plane.”

It’s hard to know the truth around the availability of SAF because there is no independent assessment of it. But the fact that confusion reigns is less than reassuring when the government’s own Jet Zero strategy rests on the huge assumption that SAF infrastructure will be developed quickly and at scale – its goal is to have 10% SAF use by 2030. In a recent report, the Climate Change Committee found uptake of SAF was “low at 0.22% of total aviation turbine fuel supply” and said the Jet Zero strategy goal was unrealistic, estimating only 2% of flights will use SAF by 2030.

As such, it’s clear that emissions from private jets will only continue to increase because more and more flights are taking off each year and the solutions they propose to reduce those emissions are not working – or not at the pace required, anyway. What needs to happen is heavy regulation of the industry – a high tax on kerosene now and a ban on private jet flights in the near future.

Scandalously, the government isn’t doing this. Its Jet Zero strategy relies heavily on greenhouse gas removals to balance the books. This concept would allow airlines and airports to continue polluting for decades, putting off real action to cut emissions now and kicking the problem further into the future.

For the wider industry, we need a similar tax on fuel, but also a frequent flyer levy to manage demand and ensure the super-rich are the ones paying the price, not people going for their annual holiday.

These policy changes won’t happen overnight, and nor will they be easy or palatable to implement. But it is the only way to cut aviation emissions drastically enough to meet our climate targets and tackle the climate emergency head on.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. upstater

    The Adirondacks of New York state encompasses over 6 million acres of mostly forested land. 40% is state owned and off limits to development. 60% is private but heavily restricted and much of this has conservation easements. Logging happens but is well managed. The Adirondacks are a huge carbon sink.

    But seeing $$$ with carbon offsets land on that will never be logged or sustainably logged are now on offer as offsets. 450,000 acres are now serving as carbon offsets. This is a totally bogus greenwashing scam. See Adirondack Explorer. Supposedly CFTC may regulate trading…

    1. notabanker

      This is the majority of offsets I have seen, and I’ve had some exposure to this at the corporate level. It’s all preserving what are existing carbon sinks. So while it won’t make it worse, it sure isn’t “offsetting” anything.

  2. Colonel Smithers

    Thank you, Rob and Yves.

    I wonder if this number includes activity at the UK’s military airports, such as RAF Northolt in NW London and one used by, amongst others, Goldman Sachs.

    Readers may or may not be surprised that some of the flights are what elite courtesans call FMTY (fly me to you) and are often for just one provider.

    It’s not just emissions, but taxes on tickets, landing fees, expense fiddling etc. often make private jet use less expensive than commercial. https://www.insider.com/flying-private-vs-flying-commercial-cost-2019-1 details some of the advantages, which, if anything, have grown since the pandemic.

  3. Milton

    Off the subject, I know but hell, most of the jets flying passengers in the sky are private. They should be called personal jets, or better yet, vanity jets.

  4. Some Guy

    I am glad to see NC covering this topic. I personally view private jet use as a marker of our seriousness about climate change. Until they are banned or effectively banned I do not foresee any meaningful progress being made.

    The disconnect between rich people converging on Davos in a horde of private jets to talk about how governments need to shut down farmers or tax people out of being able to drive to work is just too huge to be politically sustainable.

    Without so called ‘leaders’ providing any leadership, and acting as if climate change is a real threat, and making even the smallest sacrifice (travelling first class commercial instead of by private jet), the masses, sheep though they are, will just discount climate change as a scam or a scare tactic and not a real threat and who can blame them?

    1. Barnes

      You have half a point but that’s only part of the truth.
      Fact is that most of us, including myself, got so used to the amenities of daily life (mostly in rich countries that is), that we don’t recognise our own contributions to resource overuse. Simply because the vast majority of us don’t have the right mindset anymore. And imho that is crucial.
      Anecdote on the side, to illustrate what I mean:
      While I nursed my grandparents one day in winter in the northern hemisphere, I was totally baffled by my grandfather, who was in a demented state of mind, so that he recognised no one anymore, not his wife, his children, his grandchildren and yet, and yet he switched off the lights and closed the door when he left the room.
      That’s the level of awareness all of us need, private jets or not. I’m not apologetic towards private/personal airtravel by the way.

      Another discrepency I frequently observe is, people make more rational resource driven business decisions (as in business owners or employees) than they do privately. Go figure…

  5. Barnes

    You have half a point but that’s only part of the truth.
    Fact is that most of us, including myself, got so used to the amenities of daily life (mostly in rich countries that is), that we don’t recognise our own contributions to resource overuse. Simply because the vast majority of us don’t have the right mindset anymore. And imho that is crucial.
    Anecdote on the side, to illustrate what I mean:
    While I nursed my grandparents one day in winter in the northern hemisphere, I was totally baffled by my grandfather, who was in a demented state of mind, so that he recognised no one anymore, not his wife, his children, his grandchildren and yet, and yet he switched off the lights and closed the door when he left the room.
    That’s the level of awareness all of us need, private jets or not. I’m not apologetic towards private/personal airtravel by the way.

    Another discrepency I frequently observe is, people make more rational resource driven business decisions (as in business owners or employees) than they do privately. Go figure…

    And because it’s slightly off topic:
    private air travel goes by the same rules as any other luxury item – and overconsumption, that’s what it is, is not one of them.

    1. JBird4049

      Well, yes… but the internal combustion engine is almost a necessity for four-fifths of the area and perhaps three-quarters population of the United States just to survive. However, nobody is seriously trying to recreate both the old pre-1950 public transportation, expanding rail to where it was at its height and then adding truly high speed rail, and finally creating the alternative be it electric, hydrogen, or space rays powered vehicles that be necessary. This includes being functional, affordable, repairable, and refuelable.

      Instead, public transportation is being ignored, the railroads are falling apart, and wholly inadequate electric vehicles are being forced onto the population.

      So far, all the costs and pain is being put onto the people who have the least while those who have the most, which includes pollution are not paying anything.

      1. Barnes

        I couldn’t agree more and experienced the necessity of private car travel for work, thus income generation, first hand.
        Systemic change on a political level is absolutely crucial and technological progress should be strongly encouraged.
        Alas what I am arguing for is for everyone to start recognising their very own conducive/deleterious contributions to resource consumption, some of which can be changed on the individual level. These are literally billions of tiny decisions every day which can be changed without political preconditions.
        To me this a necessary condition for change because it has the potential to shift the individuals focus/mindset in a way that would be nearly impossible otherwise. This would reduce peoples tendency to resist change through their own actions and empower them to change (buzzword alarm).

        Nowadays my main mode of travel is a bicycle and some public transportation. The bicycle enabled a different pov for me through sweat, physical work exerted, near collisions, rude folk in cars, on bikes, hurt bum, bad bike lanes, if any, burning legs (which other people pay good money for in fitness studios), adverse weather (too wet, too cold, too hot, too windy, too slippery etc) – I spelled these out on purpose.

        Any politician, however well intentioned, well executed etc, trying to change “the system” or the rules on a grand scheme will be culled if people are not ready to change their behaviour because most of us are raised as comfort maximising consumers first and foremost.

        And as Yves mentioned in another post, sometimes there is no good solution. But many a perceived dilemma ceases to be one from a different perspective – especially the small things oni an individual level.
        Which brings us back to individual rationality vs collective irrationality…

  6. KLG

    A comment I have contemplated several times when climate change is the subject: A personal jet (thank you, Milton) should be perfectly legal. But use should be taxed at $100 per mile. That 6,000+ mile trip from the Obama oceanfront house with the illegal seawall in Hawai’i to their manse on The Vineyard would cost an extra $600,000, give or take. That might even get Michelle’s attention.

    1. ChrisPacific

      Remember, we live in a world where private 747s are a thing.

      It would certainly hit the less affluent (relatively speaking) private jet customers, but somebody like Elon Musk probably wouldn’t even notice.

  7. Rip Van Winkle

    At Midway Airport in Chicago they at least have a White Castle restaurant a block from the private plane terminal on 63rd Street side. Carry on all the sliders and onion rings you want, no DHS hassle.

  8. Kouros

    Increasing forest productivity over the “normal” productive rates for the site and type / age of a forest is a fiendishly difficult thing to do (this is not aggriculture), especially with already established forests. It requires better silvicultural treatments, fertilization, pest control, fire control, etc., which are costly, some labor intensive, and not usually done…

    Pretty much a skam…

  9. JustTheFacts

    Fast growing algae, duck weed, and subventioning methane reducing sea-weed fed to cows would be ways that offset carbon emissions, and their impact should be easily measurable.

  10. Savita

    This may be old news. Actor Leonardo di Caprio doing amazing work around the world to protect the environment. Dedicating time and personal funds to reduce emissions, educate, and fundraise. Very successful and committed in his ambition. All the while, travelling everywhere to do so, in his private jet.

    1. polar donkey

      Taylor Swift blows Leonardo out of the water. She probably accounts for .5 degrees celsius of temperature increase by herself.

Comments are closed.