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Hey millionaires, drop the plane for a train

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The sight of the ultra-rich hopping around France on private jets is creating a social media backlash — and politicians are clambering aboard to lambaste the wealthy for undermining the effort to fight climate change.

Transport Minister Clément Beaune wants EU transport ministers to regulate CO2 emissions from private planes at their October summit.

“There are some behaviors that are no longer acceptable,” he told Le Parisien this weekend.

Green party leader Julien Bayou last week said he would put forward a legislative proposal in September banning such flights, although that’s a bit too far for Beaune, who argues that some private aviation is an “important business activity.”

It’s a reaction to social media accounts tracking plane use by France’s jet set.

One of them, the I Fly Bernard twitter site, named after Bernard Arnault, the CEO of luxury giant LVMH, follows where the rich are flying. In one example, it found that Vincent Bolloré, the CEO of the transport, logistics and communication multinational company Bolloré, made five journeys in just over 12 hours on August 8, zig-zagging between Paris, Palermo, Nice and Toulon.

The traditional business justification for short-hop flights is that they’re more efficient than making busy executives wait for normally scheduled planes and trains. Even the EU backs some private plane use. Last year, Brussels increased its four-year private plane budget by 26 percent to €13.5 million.

But in a time of soaring inflation, economic worries and concern over climate change, such flights have few defenders.

Transport & Environment, a clean mobility NGO, found in a report last year that private jets are five to 14 times more polluting than commercial planes per passenger, and 50 times more polluting than trains.

The NGO wants to ban short trips on fossil-fuel powered jets by 2030. It argues that would boost demand for clean technologies like e-kerosene — made by combining hydrogen and carbon dioxide. 

“Punitive taxes on private jets is the only way we can account for their disproportionate climate impact,” said T&E’s aviation director Jo Dardenne. “Governments should introduce a ticket and fuel tax, scaled with flight distance and aircraft weight.”

The report also found that, except for Switzerland, private jets are untaxed in most European nations. Switzerland’s private jet ticket tariff is worth between €500 and €5,000 — cash environmentalists argue could fund new technologies like sustainable aviation fuels.

France is the EU’s private jet hotspot. In 2019, one-tenth of all flights departing from France were private, half of which traveled less than 500 kilometers. 

The EU’s Fit for 55 climate package already includes some proposed measures that will hit private jet use, such as a kerosene tax on planes, but that file is still working its way through EU institutions. Any tax change also needs unanimous support from all member countries.

The French effort gets some support from Belgium, where Green party Mobility Minister Georges Gilkinet said Friday that most private jet journeys are “difficult to justify.”

But there’s not much enthusiasm elsewhere.

“It’s not on our radar,” said an official from another EU country with a high number of private plane users. 

The fuss in France is part of a wider attack on short flights. 

Last year, the government passed a law banning short-haul flights if there is a rail alternative taking two-and-a-half hours or less, although that applies only to commercial planes, not private jets.

The European Commission is currently analyzing that proposal but says it “does not take position on the measure itself, the objective of which it supports in principle.”

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