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- Georgia businessman Stephen Prince loves flying his private jet to Nebraska and the Caribbean.
- But after realizing the environmental impact of flying private, he decided to sell his Cessna 650.
- Private jets emit between 5 and 14 times more pollutants per passenger than commercial planes.
At one point, Stephen Prince owned three private jets. The Georgia businessman flies several times a year to a remote hunting preserve in Nebraska and the occasional Caribbean vacation.
“I will literally drive to the side of the plane, and the pilots will unload my luggage and put it in the plane, and then somebody else will go park my car,” he told Insider.
For Prince, who made the majority of his fortune starting a plastic card printing business, the convenience of private aviation is one of the best perks of wealth. The experience is so amazing, he said, that he often compares the addictive nature of private jet travel to that of cocaine.
“Don’t do it unless you’re ready to get addicted to it,” he said. “Because it is absolutely addictive.”
The multi-millionaire’s private jet habit first started around six years ago, when he began chartering planes and soon bought a Mitsubishi MU-2 with a friend. To avoid scheduling conflicts, the pair bought another plane of the same model and later purchased a Cessna 560, adding various partners throughout the years. Today, he’s the sole owner of his last remaining aircraft, a twelve-seat Cessna 650.
Since the pandemic shut down commercial travel, more and more wealthy Americans have gotten hooked on private jets. In 2022, the number of US-based business jet flights surged, FAA data show — a trend that’s concerning climate scientists and environmentalists.
According to a 2021 study from the European nongovernmental organization Transport & Energy, private aircraft produce between 5 and 14 times more pollutants per passenger than commercial planes and emit up to two metric tons of CO2 in an hour. By comparison, the average person has a carbon footprint of 4.7 metric tons per year, the International Energy Agency estimates.
After learning about private jets’ environmental impact, Prince announced he’s selling his Cessna 650, which burns an average of 241 gallons of fuel per hour. Instead, he plans on flying first-class or catching a ride on his friend’s plane if a commercial route isn’t offered, he told Insider, adding that he’s currently discussing the sale with brokers.
“I get on my plane and I’ll spew ten times as much carbon into the atmosphere as I do when I get on a first-class flight on Delta or American Airlines,” he told Insider. “It’s just unconscionable — It’s incredibly selfish.”
More than 200 Extinction Rebellion and Greenpeace activists were arrested in November as they attempted to block private jets from taking off at Amsterdam’s Schiphol-East Airport during a climate demonstration.
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The businessman, who declined to share his net worth but claims to be in the “top tenth of the 1%,” is the vice-chair of Patriotic Millionaires, a group of wealthy Americans chaired by a former Blackrock executive who advocate for higher taxes on the rich, including themselves.
The organization co-authored a report outlining the environmental and financial consequences of private jet travel. Among the findings released this week was that Elon Musk emits 2,112 metric tons of carbon emissions last year (that’s 132 times the annual carbon footprint of the average American).
With aviation accounting for 2.5% of global CO2 emissions, high-profile private jet owners including Taylor Swift and Kylie Jenner have received lash back on social media for their luxurious flight habits. One Bloomberg analysis found Musk’s personal jet circumnavigated the Earth 12.4 times in 2022, with the shortest flight lasting 13 minutes.
Online backlash against the industry has started to have real-life implications. Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport announced in April that it will start banning private jets in 2026, following protests by Greenpeace and Extinction Rebellion that blocked aircraft traffic.
Billionaire Bill Gates, one of the world’s foremost investors in sustainable technology and owner of a $40 million Bombardier BD-700 Global Express, pushed back on the characterization that private jet travel is incompatible with climate activism, noting that he purchases direct air capture carbon offsets that “far exceeds” his family’s carbon footprint.
The National Business Aviation Association, a trade group that represents the private aviation industry, has pledged to to achieve net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050 through initiatives such as increasing fuel efficiency, supporting green tech such as sustainable aviation fuel, and purchasing carbon offsets.
“It [flying private] is a very amazing way to live one’s life,” Prince said. “If you can get over the amazingly selfish attributes that it represents.”