What the ‘record numbers’ of jets expected to flock to the Super Bowl mean for emissions

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Hundreds of private jets, a major source of planet-warming carbon emissions, are expected to descend on Las Vegas for the Super Bowl on Sunday. 

In addition to the emissions from the jets themselves, experts say the influx of aircraft is likely to have a downstream effect that will result in more emissions from congested streets. 

The four airports in the Las Vegas area have around 500 parking spots for private jets, which officials say are fully booked ahead of the game Sunday. 

“We expect around 3,500 additional takeoffs and landings and about 500 aircraft will be parked at local airports during Super Bowl week,” a Federal Aviation Administration spokesperson told The Hill in a statement. 

“The expectation is that general aviation activity will be similar to what we saw during [the] Formula 1 [Grand Prix] back in November,” when more than 900 business jets touched down at three airports, Joe Rajchel, a spokesperson for the Clark County Department of Aviation, told The Hill in an email. “We saw record numbers of private aviation with more than 1,000 movements between Henderson Executive Airport and North Las Vegas Airport.”

That’s more than last year’s Super Bowl in Glendale, Ariz., where The Arizona Republic estimated about 800 takeoffs and landings occurred. 

Omar Ocampo, a researcher with the Institute for Policy Studies (ISP), noted that Las Vegas is already a major travel destination, both for tourists flying commercial and for wealthier individuals either chartering private flights or flying their own, which compounds the impact of the mass arrival of private jets in a way that was not present last year. 

Private air travel is particularly emissions-intensive in much the same way a road full of cars is less environmentally friendly than a bus, said Benjamin Leffel, an assistant professor of public policy sustainability at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. 

“There are a lot of them, and although they are smaller, enough of them are highly problematic,” he said. 

One of the highest-profile expected attendees of the upcoming Super Bowl, Taylor Swift, has frequently attended Kansas City Chiefs games in support of her boyfriend, tight end Travis Kelce, and is expected to fly 5,548 miles from a Tokyo concert to the game. 

Swift has attracted backlash for her private air travel since a 2022 report by the marketing agency Yard named her the top celebrity carbon emissions offender due to her jet’s frequent trips. A publicist for the musician said at the time that she purchases offsets — or payments representing emissions reductions to compensate for carbon expenditures — for private flights and regularly loans out the plane, and all flights cannot be attributed to her alone. The Hill has reached out to Swift’s attorneys for details on the types of offsets she purchases as well as their frequency.

Using the model of jet Swift owns, a Dassault Falcon 7X, a flight from Tokyo would burn fuel equivalent to about 40 metric tons of emissions, Ocampo said, which is “a lot more than the carbon footprint of your average U.S. resident, [but] a microcosm of what’s going to happen with the climate impact, the carbon footprint that’s going to happen this weekend.”

Indeed, the cost in emissions is steep for private air travel across shorter distances as well. For example, if a hometown Kansas City Chiefs fan were to take a private flight from Kansas City to Las Vegas on the same model of jet, the nearly three-hour flight there and back would consume fuel equivalent to about 13 metric tons of carbon emissions, according to a calculator developed by Carbon Trade Exchange. For a 49ers fan, the 66-minute flight from San Francisco would run up about 4 metric tons.

Transport & Environment, a European organization that advocates for greener transportation, estimates that private jets emit 5 to 14 times more pollutants per passenger than commercial aircraft and 50 times more than trains. In Europe, high-speed trains operate along up to 80 percent of the 10 most popular intracontinental private jet routes, but in the U.S., which has far less robust rail infrastructure, this is less of a readily available alternative. 

“The United States is a gaping wound example to the world of how bad it can really get when you privatize transportation,” Leffel said. 

The emissions from private flights also don’t occur in a vacuum, he added. “During mega events, the world seems to descend on one location,” he said. Between “the energy use, the congestion [and] millions of tourists, there’s a significant doubling, at least, of traffic.”

Private air travel has surged both in the U.S. and abroad in recent years: A 2023 ISP report co-authored by Ocampo found that the popularity of private jets spiked after the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The industry has boomed — 2021 and 2022 were record-setting years,” Ocampo said. It’s waned somewhat since, he added, but not to pre-pandemic levels, suggesting “there’s sustained demand.”

“It’s our contention that we should look for alternative modes of transportation where we can, [and] expand alternative and green transportation infrastructure where maybe we don’t have to have people flying in from X part of the country,” Ocampo said. However, he said, “if it’s going to be inevitable that people are going to be flying private, I think we can implement policies that will help de-incentivize it” or raise revenues from it.

He pointed to legislation introduced by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.) that would increase fuel taxes on private aviation travel from $0.22 to $1.95 per gallon, or about $200 per metric ton of carbon dioxide emissions.  

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