A website that tracks the flights of celebrity private jets is creating a firestorm for Kylie Jenner and once again making private aviation a lightning rod for climate advocates. After several days of articles that branded the reality star a “climate criminal” for a series of sub-20-minute flights, the Boston Globe today highlighted short flights by Drake, Steven Spielberg and Mark Wahlberg.
Like many of the other reports, the Boston Globe article attempted to link private aviation usage to climate change. “Private jet trips were responsible for nearly 34 million metric tons of carbon pollution in 2016, according to one 2020 study,” the author noted while failing to mention that private jets account for just 0.04% of emissions.
If you can afford to own a car, we can also debate whether you should be taking the bus. Like owning and driving a car is more expensive than the bus, it’s costly to fly privately, so the reason people choose to spend the extra money to fly privately is a combination of privacy, security and convenience, similar to why one jumps in their automobile instead of walking down to the bus stop.
Reporting on Jenner, the Daily Mail wrote, “The Bombardier Global 7500 jet traveled for 35 minutes from Palm Springs, just outside LA, to Van Nuys, near her $36 million Hidden Hills mansion on July 15. Two hours later, the mum-of-two then flew from Van Nuys to Camarillo in in Ventura County, California – a trip which took just 12 minutes. Earlier, on July 13, Kylie had also flown from Camarillo to Van Nuys, a trip of just 17 minutes. She had then taken a 29-minute flight, going from Van Nuys to Palm Springs.”
According to Google Maps, driving between Hidden Hills and Palm Springs takes between three-and-a-half and four hours, so it’s likely Jenner cut her travel time by two or more hours for that trip. But let’s talk about those flights between Camarillo Airport and Van Nuys.
Several executives I spoke with doubt the Kardashians star, whose net worth is estimated at $600 million by Forbes, was on the flights to Camarillo. Likely, those flights were without passengers, probably because the cosmetics entrepreneur, like others, couldn’t find hangar space at her local airport.
“Owners can’t find space near where they live,” says Millie Hernandez-Becker, Director of Sales and Marketing for SkyHarbour Group, which is building private hangars at a dozen airports.
“There isn’t available hangar capacity at Tier 1 and even Tier 2 airports. Since the pandemic, there have been lots of new buyers and nobody is selling, so often there isn’t available space,” says an executive of a major operator that manages aircraft for UHNWs.
He and other executives say in some cases, there is no more land to build hangars at some busy airports. In others, the local communities see blocking additional hangars as a way to put a lid on airport expansion, while in other cases, executives cite bureaucracy.
“Even if there is space, it often entails knocking down existing structures where there are tenants. Then there are various studies and approvals, and on and on. It can be a five-year process,” says one executive.
Another business aviation veteran adds that newer private jets like the Global 7500 are quieter, more fuel efficient, and also have a much larger footprint. Its wingspan is 10 feet wider than Global Express. “Hangar space hasn’t been keeping up,” he says.
While some aircraft owners keep their airplanes at remote airports because it can be less expensive, both for rent and fuel, that has to be balanced with additional costs. The landings and takeoffs add cycles to the airframe, which increases maintenance expenses and lowers the value of the airplane when it is put up for sale.
At the same time, airport authorities have also been hiking fees. One management company executive says rents at a large private jet airport increased by 40% over the past year. “It’s making owners look for alternatives. In some cases, you can save more than $200,000 per year.”
A person familiar with Jenner’s situation says, “There was no available hangar space for a Global 7500 right now at Van Nuys, so she was effectively boxed out.”
Still, another reason for owners having to fly their airplanes empty isn’t related to parking. It’s the rising cost of living in major metropolitan markets. Whereas the major manufacturers used to have maintenance facilities in Southern California, they have now relocated to Arizona.
“They can’t afford to pay maintenance technicians what they would need to earn to live in Orange County or Los Angeles County, so each time you need to take your airplane for service, it has to be flown to Arizona,” he says.
At the same time, executives are annoyed that business aviation is once again being used as a lightning rod. “This industry has been leading in climate advocacy, with sustainable aviation fuel, carbon offset programs, and all of these articles ignore that business aviation provides essential services,” he says.
“These articles use celebrities because of name recognition. They ignore that most of our flying is getting people to places they can’t get to effectively with the airlines.” He also points to the industry’s role as first-responders after natural disasters, flying in time-critical medical and emergency response support.