Ghost Flights And Their Impact On The Environment

Have you heard of the term ‘Ghost Flights’? It refers to the practice of flying planes with no passengers on board to maintain time table arrangements.

The European Union is facing scrutiny for policies requiring airlines to fly empty planes across the region in order to keep their takeoff and landing slots. Alarmingly, air travel accounts for approximately 2.5 percent of global CO2 emissions, and campaigners claim that the thousands of ghost flights that occur each year are a major contributor to climate change.

Credits - Pixabay via Pexels

Thousands of planes from Europe’s largest airlines have been forced to fly empty to maintain allotted departure and landing times at major airports.

The Independent reported in March 2020 that, despite operating only a small number of rescue flights during the coronavirus lockdown, Ryanair appeared to be flying the majority of its fleet on a regular basis.

Europe’s largest low-cost carrier was operating frequent flights in which planes took off, circled the airport, and landed again. The purpose of these empty flights was to keep the aircraft operationally available. Planes that have been grounded for an extended period of time must be inspected before they can be cleared to fly again, which prolongs the process and costs the airline money.

Lufthansa, Europe’s second largest carrier, reports that it had to operate 18,000 ‘ghost flights’ over the winter, despite the fact that the polluting effects of these flights run directly counter to the EU’s climate goals. Approximately 3000 of those flights were operated by the carrier’s subsidiary, Brussels Airlines.

Swedish climate activist, Greta Thunberg, condemned the unnecessary flights tweeting, “The EU surely is in a climate emergency mode…”

Credit - Greta Thunberg via Twitter

Doug Parr, UK’s policy director at Greenpeace, also shared his input, tweeting “This pointless airport rule urgently needs overhauling as it makes zero sense. They must be grounded immediately.”

According to The Independent, the EU is now considering further tweaking its “use it or lose it” rule, with industry groups seeking more flexibility to keep these wasteful flights out of the air.

Some air travel is necessary, or at least understandable, and many airlines have stated that they will make every effort to reduce their environmental impact. Ultimately, whether it’s a pandemic or not, we are best served by eliminating unnecessary flights. On a positive note, a number of EU countries have proposed bans on short-haul flights where rail alternatives exist, that’s a good start!

While giving up flying may appear to be a choice that limits our own freedom and the opportunity to experience different cultures, its growing role in climate change is putting many of our most cherished environments at risk.

If we consider reducing our air travel we may discover that the pleasures of slow travel and discovering what we’ve been missing on our own doorsteps is worth the sacrifice.

If you’re looking for more information on travelling sustainably check out our post on ‘How To Be A Green Traveller‘.