Airlines flying near-empty ‘ghost flights’ leads to surge in emissions

Airlines flying near-empty ‘ghost flights’ leads to surge in emissions

Greenpeace claimed there could be 100,000 flights flying unnecessarily.

Ireland must tackle aviation emissions, a leading transport expert has said, as an international report claimed empty flights in the EU led to the equivalent of emissions from 1.4 million cars.


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Global environmental activism group Greenpeace said that it had calculated the environmental impact of so-called 'ghost flights', where airlines flew empty or near-empty aircraft to keep valuable take off and landing slots at airports.

Greenpeace claimed that from its calculations, using data made public from German carrier Lufthansa and extrapolating from that by comparing other airlines, that there could be 100,000 flights flying unnecessarily, or the same as 1.4 million cars annually.

European rules 

Lufthansa said it had 18,000 flights this winter that it deemed unnecessary, blaming European Commission rules compelling airlines to use airport slots in order to keep them.

Some environmental campaigners have said that while unnecessary flights are environmentally harmful, the problem of ghost flights is overblown and that many of the flights actually do have passengers onboard, albeit less than full.

Lufthansa did admit after pushback that many of the flights would indeed have passengers.

A spokesperson for Greenpeace’s European Mobility For All campaign, Herwig Schuster, said: “We’re in a climate crisis, and the transport sector has the fastest-growing emissions in the EU – pointless, polluting ‘ghost flights’ are just the tip of the iceberg. 

"It would be irresponsible of the EU to not take the low-hanging fruit of ending ghost flights and banning short-haul flights where there’s a reasonable train connection.” 

Short-haul flights ban

Greenpeace said it is calling on the Commission and governments of the EU to "end the rule encouraging ghost flights, and to ban short-haul flights where there is an alternative train connection under six hours".

Dr Brian Caulfield, Trinity College Dublin associate professor in the department of civil, structural, and environmental engineering, told the Irish Examiner that domestic aviation should become obsolete over time.

"Domestic aviation is included within the carbon budgets. However, domestic aviation is probably something that we should start to phase out in Ireland given the short distances and the high carbon intensity of these flights. 

"It does seem a little bit strange that the Government did not ask the Climate Change Advisory Council to look at international aviation. This would be a very contentious issue given that we are in Ireland and do depend upon international travel. 

"However, it is not acceptable given that we are in a climate crisis, that the Government itself declared, to ignore this. One would hope in the next iterations of this climate budgetary process that international aviation is also examined."

Carbon budgets were announced in October 2020 and unveiled last October. They include all greenhouse gases in each five-year cycle and will allocate emissions ceilings to the likes of motorists, households, farmers, businesses, and industry, but aviation and shipping were not included.

The carbon budget for the period 2021-2025 aims to reduce emissions by 4.8% on average annually for five years, while the second budget from 2026-2030 will look to up that annual reduction to 8.3%.

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