Kylie Jenner has faced a torrent of criticism for her decision to take her private jet on a flight that lasted just 17 minutes. But the practice of taking brief journeys on luxury aircraft appears to be common among the rich and famous despite mounting concerns about the climate crisis.
Jenner, the 24-year-old socialite and businesswoman, has faced online opprobrium after she posted an Instagram picture of herself and her partner, the rapper Travis Scott, on the runway of an airport between two private jets with the caption “you wanna take mine or yours?”
According to an automated Twitter account that tracks celebrity flights based on transponders and tail-fin markings, Jenner’s flight on July 12th lasted just 17 minutes, taking her from Van Nuys, in Los Angeles, to the nearby town of Camarillo. The model had earlier taken a 27-minute trip in her jet, a $72 million Bombardier BD 700, to Van Nuys from Thermal, California.
She was subsequently attacked by Twitter users for her “absolute disregard for the planet” and for being a “full time climate criminal”. It’s estimated that her 17-minute jaunt would have resulted in a tonne of carbon-dioxide emissions, which, although in itself not a huge amount, is about a quarter of the total annual carbon footprint of the average person globally.
But Jenner — who took an even shorter flight, lasting just nine minutes, between the same two locations in June — is far from the only celebrity to make short hops using private aircraft rather than driving or using public transport.
A review of the Celebrity Jets tracking account suggests that just in the past month, the rapper Drake took an 18-minute flight from Hamilton, in Ontario, to Toronto; Kenny Chesney, the country-music singer, was in the air for just 20 minutes between Akron, in Ohio, and Pittsburgh; and the actor Mark Wahlberg took a 23-minute flight from Dublin to Co Clare, among other short trips.
Wahlberg’s plane had arrived in Dublin on June 1st, following a short flight from London; that evening the actor visited an exhibition at Chapter One restaurant, on Parnell Square, where he posed with Nicky Byrne of Westlife. After his plane landed in Shannon he played golf at Adare Manor. His jet took off again on June 2nd for a 9½-hour flight to California that Celebrity Jets calculates used about $32,000 (or more than €31,000) worth of fuel and emitted 51 tonnes of carbon dioxide.
Many of these brief flights are to “park” an aircraft at a convenient or less expensive location, or are part of a longer, two-part journey, but many appear to have an unclear rationale, such as the decision of the boxer Floyd Mayweather to fly 14 minutes from Las Vegas to nearby Henderson, then to fly 10 minutes back.
“I’m not surprised people are upset. They are right to be mad at this,” said Jack Sweeney, creator of the Celebrity Jets account, which uses data from a company that tracks aircraft transponders.
Sweeney, a student at the University of Central Florida, has a similar account that just tracks the private jet of Elon Musk, the multibillionaire head of Tesla. In May, Musk took a 28-minute flight in his jet between the Texas cities of Houston and Austin, but Sweeney believes he should be judged differently for this.
“With Elon he’s just trying to be as quick as possible and efficient for work, but someone like Kim Kardashian” — who has taken long and short private-jet flights — “is posting ‘Kim Air’ and flexing and all that,” he says.
Private jets are responsible for about 4 per cent of all aviation emissions, according to a 2016 study, with the airline industry keen to point out that flying in general comprises just a small fraction of the overall sources of planet-heating gases.
But private aircraft still emit more than 33 million tonnes of greenhouse gases, more than the country of Denmark, and because they carry so few people they are five to 14 times more polluting than commercial planes, per passenger, and 50 times more polluting than trains, researchers have found.
“These startlingly short flights show the immense impact of the wealthy in overall aviation emissions,” says Scott Hochberg, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute.
“The problem starts at the top with Kylie Jenner and other celebrities with private jets, which have a much larger impact than commercial aircraft on a per-passenger basis. But it also includes many others, as the US constitutes the bulk of the wealthy elite that have the luxury of flying.”
Emissions from private jets flown in the United States have surged since the 1990s and will balloon further as larger and more polluting aircraft come on to the market. Short trips using private jets are not solely an American phenomenon; in 2019, one-tenth of all flights departing France were private jets, with half travelling less than 500km. The frequent use of aviation is the domain of the world’s wealthy, with just 1 per cent of the global population responsible for half of the emissions associated with flying.
“There are plenty of alternatives to private jets, and wanting to avoid travelling with the hoi polloi isn’t a good enough reason for excessive pollution,” says Nikita Pavlenko, fuels team lead at the International Council on Clean Transportation. “These short flights have emissions that are small in relative terms but per person they are staggering. Aviation emissions are growing exponentially year over year, and private-jet pollution is growing more than general aviation.”
Big US airlines have announced climate plans that include commitments to ramp up the use of low-emission sustainable aviation fuels, such as cooking oil or hydrogen, with Joe Biden’s administration last year unveiling a goal of a 20 per cent cut in aviation emissions by 2030. This target is voluntary, however, and there has been no significant shift by the industry towards lessening its climate impact.
“Aviation decarbonisation is largely all talk and little substance in the US,” says Pavlenko. “As for celebrities, they need to set a positive example and ditch the planes. At the very least they should exhibit some leadership and use sustainable fuels or a zero-emissions plane when that becomes available.” — Guardian, with additional reporting