A new analysis catalogs alarming facts about the destructive private jet industry, which is emblematic of runaway economic and carbon inequality.
Research published Monday details how the working class is paying the price, in more ways than one, for the "jet-owning oligarchy" to hop around the globe in their personal luxury planes.
It's well-established that private jet travel by the super-rich is worsening the fossil fuel-driven climate crisis. Adding insult to injury, this conspicuously carbon-intensive consumption is being subsidized by ordinary taxpayers, as the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) and Patriotic Millionaires make clear in their new analysis.
Entitled High Flyers 2023: How Ultra-Rich Private Jet Travel Costs the Rest of Us and Burns Up Our Planet, the report catalogs alarming facts about the private jet industry and makes recommendations about how to rein in this potent symbol and manifestation of escalating inequality.
To begin with, "private jets emit at least 10 times more pollutants than commercial planes per passenger," the report notes. "Unsurprisingly, approximately 1% of people are believed to be responsible for about half of all aviation carbon emissions."
Amid a surge in wealth inequality since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, "private jet use has increased by about a fifth, and private jet emissions have increased more than 23%," the report points out. "The private jet sector set industry records with regards to transaction and dollar volume in 2021 and 2022."
While a coronavirus-era boom is evident, the industry has been growing steadily alongside wealth inequality since the turn of the century. As the report states: "The size of the global fleet has increased 133% in the last two decades from 9,895 in 2000 to 23,133 in mid-2022. This bonanza was accompanied by an unprecedented number of business jet operations, 5.3 million in 2022."
"If we can't ban private jets, we should at least tax them and require them to pay to offset their environmental damage and subsidies."
According to the report, "The median net worth of a full and fractional private jet owner is $190 million and $140 million respectively." A minuscule 0.0008% of the global population belongs to the jet-owning class, which consists mostly of financial and real estate tycoons.
Last year, billionaire Elon Musk, "the most active high flyer in the United States," bought a new jet and took 171 private flights, or about one every other day, the report notes.
In so doing, he single-handedly "contributed to the consumption of 837,934 liters of jet fuel," states the report, and he "was responsible for 2,112 tons of carbon emissions"—132 times more than the entire carbon footprint of an average person in the United States.
In a statement, report co-author Kalena Thomhave, a researcher with the Program on Inequality and the Common Good at IPS, called private jets "a microcosm of our system of wealth inequality even beyond their image of extravagance."
"Private flyers pay just 2% of the taxes that primarily fund the Federal Aviation Administration, yet nearly 17% of flights handled by the FAA are private," said Thomhave. "Meanwhile, private jets contribute disproportionately to carbon emissions while often representing significant tax savings for their wealthy owners."
As the report observes: "Thousands of municipal airports in the U.S. are funded by the public, but many primarily serve private and corporate jets. These airports may not offer scheduled passenger service, but they still offer airport runways subsidized by taxes."
Such regressive taxation is the product of industry lobbying, the report explains:
The largest player in the private jet lobby, the National Business Aviation Association, has spent an average $2.4 million each year since 2008 lobbying the federal government, primarily for tax giveaways. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the industry specifically lobbied for Covid relief, particularly "medium to long-term liquidity assistance and relief from air transportation excise taxes," even though industry demand was quickly climbing.
As wealth inequality soars, so too does the value of the private jet market, which grew from $32.3 billion in 2021 to $34.1 billion in 2022, the report notes. With wealth being concentrated in fewer and fewer hands and little to no downward redistribution on the horizon, the private jet industry is projected to expand further in the coming years.
Report co-author Omar Ocampo, a researcher with the Program on Inequality and the Common Good at IPS, said that the private jet industry's expected growth this decade "provides us with a great opportunity to levy a luxury transfer tax on private jet sales." He added that "the revenue raised from this tax can be invested towards developing a green transportation system."
According to the report, "A 10% and 5% transfer fee on pre-owned and new private aircraft would have raised $2.4 billion in 2021 and $2.6 billion in 2022."
In addition to imposing a transfer tax on all private jet sales, IPS and Patriotic Millionaires recommend the following steps be taken:
- Levy a private jet fuel tax;
- Institute a "short hop" surcharge;
- Resist efforts to increase passenger facility charges until private jet owners pay their fair share;
- Create a sustainable transportation equity trust fund;
- Increase TSA security oversight of private jets; and
- Pass the Aircraft Ownership Transparency Act.
According to the report, Musk would have paid nearly $4 million in additional taxes last year if a transfer fee and jet fuel tax had been in place.
"Private jet travel by billionaires and the ultra-wealthy imposes a tremendous cost on the rest of us," said Chuck Collins, another co-author of the report.
"Not only do ordinary travelers and taxpayers subsidize the air space for private jets, but the high flyers also contribute considerably more pollution than other passengers," said Collins. "If we can't ban private jets, we should at least tax them and require them to pay to offset their environmental damage and subsidies."