The mayor of London, Saqiq Khan, was pressed on the issue during a London Assembly Q&A on Thursday and accepted the environmental damage they cause but stopped short of backing a ban.
Greenpeace found that 90,256 private flights were made in total in the UK in 2022, a 75 per cent rise on the year, to emit half a million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) – more than in any other European country.
The London and Paris route was the most popular with 3,357 flights being made despite the Eurostar departing 10 to 15 times per day. Mr Khan has been accused of letting the super-rich “off the hook” despite his pro-environmental stance.
Doug Parr, policy director at Greenpeace UK, said: “Private jets are staggeringly polluting and generally pointless.
“Many of these journeys can be covered almost as quickly by train, and some of them by bicycle. Millions of people around the world are facing climate chaos, losing livelihoods or worse, while a tiny minority are burning jet fuel like there’s no tomorrow.
“If the government is serious about net zero and a fair transition to low-carbon transport then private jets should be first on the chopping block.”
The most carbon-intensive flight was the five-mile distance from Farnborough and Blackbushe airports in Hampshire, which was made 13 times in 2022.
Around 40 per cent of all private jet flights in Europe were classified as “very short-haul” meaning’ that they were less than 500km.
Labour Mayor writes a book about the climate emergency.
Labour Mayor also defends the super rich and their private jets: pic.twitter.com/qC4BKmQVp4
— Zack Polanski 💚 (@ZackPolanski) May 18, 2023
The Green Party in London called on Mr Khan to crack down on the flights from the capital with 17,000 flights arriving or departing last year in the Greater London Authority area alone - one every eight minutes. This does not include Gatwick, Stansted or Luton airports. The majority of the flights came in or out of Biggin Hill Airport near Orpington.
Green London Assembly member Zack Polanski addressed Mr Khan in the Mayor’s Question Time on Thursday.
He said: “London is a playground for the super-rich, and the private jet numbers prove that.
“While ordinary Londoners are rightly asked to change how they travel for the sake of the planet and the air we breathe, the very wealthiest are carrying on their polluting habits undeterred.
“The self-titled ‘greenest mayor ever’ is letting the super-rich off the hook.”
He added: “The government needs to take decisive action to curb these unnecessary emissions – that starts with the mayor calling for a ban on harmful fossil fuel burning jets in London and being brave enough to stand up to the one per cent.”
Mr Khan said all sectors need to consider changes to avert a climate catastrophe, including aviation. He said private jets can be five to 14 times more polluting per passenger and 50 times more polluting than trains.
“They are usually used by a small number of people, usually those most privileged, and I was surprised the prime minister took private jet trips costing the taxpayer £500,000.
“Frequent travellers should consider whether the journey is necessary at all and then take the lowest carbon option possible.”
When pressed on whether he would condemn all private journeys, the mayor added: “There could be exceptional circumstances because of the time of day they have got to get somewhere which cannot be met by a commercial airline.
“I think the question is, ‘Am I in favour of banning private jets’ and the answer is ‘no’. There are nearly always alternatives. While I can envisage a scenario where they may not be an alternative, I think their use should be exceptional.”
“I think I have been quite clear …” Mr Khan added, before Mr Polanski interrupted, saying, “I think you have been very clear that you stand for the one per cent, Mr Mayor,” to which sounds of “oooh” were heard from around the chamber.
“I am not willing to, as you are, to close all airports down and ban private jets,” the mayor said.
A spokesperson for Mr Khan said: “Sadiq agrees that the use of private jets needs to be rapidly reduced if we’re serious about tackling climate change. Private jets are generally used by the most privileged people in society – and while the mayor has no powers to regulate them, he urges those who use them to make choices that support our planet.”