“Ghost Flights” Across the Atlantic Anger Environmentalists

Airplanes are one of the leading contributors of green house gases, so it should come as no surprise that environmentalists are furious at Delta Airlines for flying empty jumbo jets across the Atlantic.

The airline has been sending the “ghost flights” from the US to Heathrow Airport in the UK to meet Australian disinfection regulations, according to a report this week in the Guardian. Australia’s Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) requires inbound planes to be sprayed with insecticide to ward off malaria and dengue fever. Such spraying is not allowed in the US, so the planes fly to the nearest authorized facility, across the pond.

Delta didn’t sound like it was too happy with the situation either. According to a spokeswoman:

“Materials used for this process are approved and available for use in the United States; however, according to US regulations, these treatments must be carried out at designated AQIS locations outside the United States.”

(via the Guardian)

So Delta feels it’s hands are tied. This hasn’t stopped the British Campaign for Better Transport from skewering them, and the airline industry in general, calling the empty flights symbolic of the “wanton” attitude of the airline industry towards the environment.

No word on where in the States the Delta flights are originating, but a flight from LAX to to Heathrow emits about 698 tons of CO2, 350 times more than the average car in an entire year, according to the Daily Mail.

Not the First Time, Probably Not the Last

In 2007, British Mediterranean Airways got in hot water for ghost flights it was running between Heathrow and Cardiff Airport. Their justification was even shakier: to hang on to landing slots at the Welsh airport.

British Airways, meanwhile, was caught ghosting between the US, Canada and the UK because of a lack of cabin crew on certain flights.

Delta is planning to stop its ghost flights to Heathrow at the end of the month, and switch to facilities in China. Let’s hope this doesn’t mean ghost trips across the Pacific.

BC (Ben) Upham is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. He has written for the New York Times, and was a writer and editor for News Communications, Inc., a local paper consortium serving Manhattan. When he's not blogging on green issues -- and especially renewable energy -- he's hiking in the Angeles Mountains or hanging out at El Matador.

4 responses

  1. This is nothing new and has been going on for more than several years. I was angry about it when I first heard of the practice, but it’s weird how only now it seems to be getting more attention…as it should.

  2. This seems incredibly strange. I recognize Australia’s desire to keep out invasive species and disease, but I wonder how effective dumping pesticides on a plane actually is, especially as a one-off procedure – not to mention the potential side effects. If the USA gov prohibits this practice then it can’t be harmless. Once the plane fills up with new passengers and cargo, does it have to be re-sprayed?

    I remember being sprayed by flight attendants walking down the aisle on Qantas when I was a kid traveling to Australia and even then being kind of stunned that someone would empty a can of pesticide on a packed aircraft. I don’t know if that’s still done.

    It’s not Delta’s fault of course, but they could have at least given some needy kids a trip to London or something rather than flying empty…

  3. All they need, to end with those useless, and costly, flights, is to have more planes.
    Planes do not need to fly every day. They may remain longer in land without suffering from the equipment.
    The maintnance of a plane in the garage is much less costy than the working one.
    Dust, in the garage, do protect also the painting and do not get to the fuel tank if the fuel tank is well sealed.

    1. Actually that’s not true. Planes are in the air more often then they are on the ground – that’s the only way to pay for them. Planes sitting on the ground cost airlines huge amounts of money in lost revenue. Even so, there are many sitting on the ground in the desert right now which are not in use as a result of lower demand.

      In this case, it’s aobut approving a particular plane for a particular flight so the number of planes in service has nothing to do with it.

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