Contrary to reports in the media that the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2019 saw a record number of private jets flying into and out of airports serving Davos, we have just received data from the two official airports of the meeting. It shows that, in fact, the volume of private air traffic was actually down 20% year on year.
Why is this important? As an ISO-certified event, we are constantly looking to reduce our carbon footprint. When it comes to air travel, this means offering incentives to participants who come by train. It also includes offsetting all air travel by purchasing carbon credits. In 2018, carbon credits purchased by the Forum supported a number of projects around the world, including biogas plants in Switzerland, a hydroelectric project in Brazil, wind power in Vietnam and more efficient household stoves in Mali.
It’s also important in the context of a number of stories in the media, based on forward-looking projections and unspecified methodologies by commercial operators, that predicted vastly inflated numbers of private jets, with 2019 supposedly set to be a record year.
So how did we arrive at our number exactly? Firstly, we use official statistics from the two airports (see below). For the sake of this calculation, we’ll focus simply on fixed-wing aircraft (or Flachenflugzeuge, below). The data presented by both airports comes in the form of “air traffic movements”, or ATMs.
This is where things can get complicated, as each journey into and out of either airport sometimes counts as four distinct movements; for example, when planes fly to a nearby landing strip to park and then take off again to pick up their passengers before beginning the homeward journey. This happens particularly often during peak times.
In order to be conservative, we assume that each journey requires only two ATMs, rather than four. This should give us the accurate number of journeys made by private jet to the meeting. We can see from above that, for Zurich, we can see that in 2019, there were a total of 804 ATMs between Sunday 20 January and the following Friday compared to 1006 in 2018.
For St. Gallen-Altenrhein, we actually saw an increase in movements; from 165 in 2018 to 246 this year. This was an active move on our part to try and reduce road congestion.
This equates to a total of 1,050 movements between Sunday and Friday this year, compared to 1,171 in 2018. However, both Zurich and St. Gallen-Altenrhein are used all year round. In fact, Zurich sees on average 55 daily movements into and out of Zurich, while St. Gallen-Altenrhein sees a further 17 per day.
For the six days covering the meeting, this means that 432 movements can be attributed to non-Davos traffic. Which gives us a total of 618 movements in 2019 compared to 739 in 2018, or a 20% year-on-year decrease, or a maximum of 309 journeys, which could be as low as 155 if each trip involved four movements.
So what happened to the 1,500 ‘record’ number of jets? Well to be fair, the above numbers don’t take into account public figures such as presidents and prime ministers: there were around 60 of these but they tend to use military planes and land at a nearby military base, which makes it impossible to get flight numbers. Given the number of CEOs and Chairs of large global businesses is on a par with last year, maybe our measures to discourage private travel are having an effect. In any case, these figures demonstrate the shakiness of the claims made by commercial operators that the media latched on to early in the meeting.