As superstar singer-songwriter Taylor Swift comes under fire for her “excessive” private jet usage, just how damaging will the thousands of planes going to Las Vegas for this weekend’s Super Bowl really be?
This year’s Super Bowl is almost upon us and, alongside the excitement surrounding the sport – and woman of the moment, Taylor Swift – there are concerns the event could be devastating for the environment.
Set to be held in Las Vegas, Nevada on Sunday, it’s been confirmed that at least 475 parking spaces for private jets are already full up with celebrities and VIPs flying in from across the US – and the globe.
This week, Federal Aviation Administration officials announced that the four airports immediately surrounding Las Vegas had already reached capacity for private planes some weeks ago.
Among their number will likely be Taylor Swift, the girlfriend of Travis Kelce, a player for the Kansas City Chiefs who are set to face off against American football rivals San Francisco 49ers in the NFL championship game.
Why is Taylor Swift coming under fire for her private jet use?
Swift has come under a great deal of scrutiny for her flight schedule in recent weeks, with some saying it is excessive in the midst of a climate emergency.
The hugely popular American singer-songwriter is frequently listed as among the most prolific private jet users.
One survey by sustainability marketing firm Yard claimed that her private plane emitted some 8,300 tonnes of carbon emissions in 2022 – that’s 1,184 times the average person’s total annual emissions.
While Swift’s spokespeople have fought back against that figure, saying she offsets her trips by buying carbon credits, some experts have questioned exactly how effective carbon offsetting really is.
This week, Swift threatened legal action against a student who has been tracking her private jet usage.
Jack Sweeney, a 22-year-old studying information technology at the University of Central Florida, has become infamous for using public data and social media to track the private jets of billionaires, politicians and other celebrities.
In a letter shared by Sweeney with the Associated Press, Swift’s attorneys have alleged the tracking is likely to be tipping off stalkers as to her location.
They claim he is effectively providing “individuals intent on harming her, or with nefarious or violent intentions, a roadmap to carry out their plans.”
Sweeney, though, maintains that he never intends to cause any harm with his tracking – but that he is devoted to maintaining the importance of transparency and public information.
“One should reasonably expect that their jet will be tracked, whether or not I’m the one doing it, as it is public information after all,” he said.
Whether it’s not clear if Sweeney’s findings played a role in Swift apparently selling one of her two private jets this week, he is certainly behind the latest controversy surrounding her carbon footprint.
He revealed that the 34-year-old pop superstar had used one of her jets to take a 13-minute ride across the city of St Louis, Missouri. It was soon pointed out that the same journey could easily have been made in just 30 minutes by car – and with significantly less environmental impact.
However, it soon turned out that Swift may well have already sold the plane at the time of that flight. Sweeney’s Twitter – formerly X – account posted that the registration of the aircraft changed on 4 February, shortly after the controversial flight.
That suggests that the journey may have instead been used for maintenance or demonstration purposes, rather than for transporting Swift.
How damaging will air travel be over Super Bowl weekend?
Ahead of kickoff on Sunday, it’s estimated that thousands of players and fans of the Saudi-funded LIV Golf league also will be in the city for a tournament running from Thursday to Saturday at Las Vegas Country Club.
That’s before a further 60,000 people descend on the Allegiant Stadium for the American football match.
On an average day in Las Vegas, some 160,000 people fly in and out of the airport. 2023 was a record-breaking year, with 57.6 million passengers passing through.
Air traffic this weekend will be heavier still, according to the National Business Aviation Association.
Commercial flights, though, are significantly less damaging to the environment than those made by private jets.
Last year, the NGO Transport and Environment calculated that they are five to 14 times more polluting per passenger than commercial flights – and a huge 50 times more polluting than trains.
Those figures make private jets by far the most polluting mode of transport on the planet per passenger kilometre.
Las Vegas authorities have announced there is still availability for so-called ‘drop-and-go’ flights – that’s where pilots leave their passengers, then fly on to another airport to park their jets.
How bad are private jet flights for emissions?
Exact figures of how many private jets will enter the airspace surrounding Las Vegas this weekend won’t be released until after the event, but experts will be watching on, concerned.
It also won’t be known exactly how much damage these flights will do to the environment – but, if previously released figures are anything to go by, it is likely to be high.
In a study published last year, emissions from private jets have soared in Europe recently.
A Greenpeace report found that private jets on the continent emitted a total of 5.3 million tonnes of CO2 over the last three years.
The number of private flights shot up, too, from just under 119,000 in 2020 to 573,000 in 2022.
That amount of carbon dioxide is more than Uganda – a country home to 46 million people – produces in an entire year.
In Europe, the worst offenders for pumping out greenhouse gases are the UK – with 501,077 tonnes of CO2 in 2022 – and France and Italy, which put out 383,061 tonnes and 266,082 tonnes of the greenhouse gas from private jet traffic respectively.
Late last year, more than 75 organisations from across Europe signed an open letter calling for a ban on private jets, though similar legislation had previously been ruled out by the EU Transport Commission in 2023.
Campaigners said that choice was “another missed opportunity” to limit “luxury emissions”.
Is it too late to stop damage done by Super Bowl air traffic?
Back in the US, the guest list for arguably the biggest event in global sport has not been released – but it’s not just Taylor Swift who has come under scrutiny for her private jet usage.
The likes of Bill Gates, Elon Musk and Leonardo DiCaprio have frequently come under fire over their “excessive” use of private planes.
Like Swift, Bill Gates has often defended his trips, saying he too purchases offsets and supports clean technology and other sustainability initiatives.
However, countless questions surrounding the effectiveness of offsets remain.
Critics say they are loosely regulated and investigations have suggested that some programmes overestimate how much carbon is actually being captured.
Several airlines are in the process of developing planes which will be powered by electricity and will therefore have no emissions.
For now, though, experts are hoping VIPs making their way to Las Vegas will choose to sharply reduce the use of highly pollutive private jets – but that seems unlikely before Sunday.