As political and business leaders from around the world gather at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, to discuss, among other things, climate change and economic inequality, they’re once again being mocked for traveling to the Alpine ski resort in private jets and helicopters.
Jet provider Air Charter Service estimated that about 1,500 private jets would be flying to airports near the Swiss town, up from about 1,300 at least year’s conference, according to an AFP report. Once through customs at Zurich or other nearby airports, some attendees will even transfer to a helicopter for the journey to Davos itself. Depending on the plane, the amount of fuel used on such flights ranges from 100 to 358 gallons burned per hour, so the roundtrip flights in total are likely to end up burning millions of gallons of gas.
“From Zurich, you can arrive in Davos in 40 minutes and avoid a lengthy car transfer in a comfortable private helicopter with air conditioning,” according to Premium Switzerland, which promotes “luxury travel” in Switzerland.
Air Charter Service reported in a blog post that there’s also a move toward bigger planes in recent years.
“There appears to be a trend toward larger aircraft, with expensive heavy jets the aircraft of choice, with Gulfstream GVs and Global Expresses both being used more than 100 times each last year,” according to the post. “This is at least in part due to some of the long distances traveled, but also possibly due to business rivals not wanting to be seen to be outdone by one another.”
There’s some variation since newer plane models can be more efficient than older ones, but larger planes generally burn more fuel and emit more greenhouse effect-causing carbon dioxide than smaller ones, and longer air trips naturally use more fuel than shorter ones.
It’s far from the first time attendees at such events are being criticized for excessively luxurious travel. Such reports are essentially an annual occurrence at Davos, and former President Barack Obama was criticized in 2017 for traveling with a 14-car escort to give a climate change talk in Milan.
Should economic growth hit a speed bump, it’s likely such criticisms will only increase. In 2008, CEOs of the big Detroit automakers were roundly criticized for flying in separate private jets to Washington, D.C., where they sought bailout money from Congress. On a return trip, the executives traveled instead in fuel-efficient hybrid automobiles.
UPDATE: The World Economic Forum disputed Air Charter Service’s numbers in a blog post Wednesday, estimating the conference brought only an additional 135 round trip private flights to nearby airports—though its total doesn’t include heads of state and government reps who might have traveled by private jet or helicopter or anyone who traveled to Davos via a combination of jet flights to a more remote city and train/car.
“We have been offering incentives to participants to use public transport for some years,” according to the post. “We also ask that they share planes if they have to use them; something that has been gaining popularity in recent years.”
The Local, an English language publication covering Switzerland, separately reported 130 additional takeoffs and landings from Zurich airport.
While exact numbers might be impossible to come by, the jet trips still mean thousands of extra gallons of fuel burned in connection to the conference, though the WEF emphasizes it “offsets all carbon emissions related to air travel to and from our Annual Meeting.”