Carbon footprint of ghost flights during the lockdown

One would think that during the height of lockdown. that no planes would fly. After all, few people wanted to travel, and many destinations were banned.

Unfortunately no such luck. Why do I say this? Well currently 2.1% of emissions come from aviation (in wealthy countries this is far higher as many poor countries have little or no aviation – in the USA aviation accounts for 3-4%).

So what happened in lockdown?

Well many airports have heavily crowded take-off and landing schedules. Many airlines have therefore fought hard for their slots, and were determined to not lose them. Now what would be sensible would be for the airports to allow everyone to hold their slots until normalcy is reached. Unfortunately, this is wishful thinking. Instead, airlines were forced to fly empty planes on normal schedule so as to retain ownership of their landing slots!

This is insane.

On average 115,000 flights occur every day. Also on average, a plane emits roughly 53 pounds per mile. Now the average flight is just short of 500 miles, so we will take this round number to help. Numbers vary, but if we say an average plane can take 500 people, then each person has a carbon footprint of 0.1 pounds per mile, or about 50 pounds per flight.

What about ghost flights? Well about 15000 ghost flights flew from the UK during the epidemic. If you are generous, an empty plane uses 20% less fuel than a full one, but as an average plane emits 25,000 pounds (500*50), even with a 20% reduction, roughly 10 tonnes are emitted.

Therefore British carbon emissions from ghost flights accounted for 150,000 tonnes of completely wasted fuel and carbon emissions.

While this is small compared to the human races emissions, this is all totally unnecessary. Airports should be taxed heavily for this wasted emissions.

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