German carrier Lufthansa said earlier this month that expects to operate 18,000 half-empty flights this winter to avoid losing access to some airports. File Photo by Jim Bryant/UPI | License Photo
Jan. 27 (UPI) -- Environmental advocates are expressing concern about a tactic that some airlines are taking this winter in order to keep their airport permits -- "ghost flights," which are commercial flights that carry few or no passengers.
Some carriers have said they have had to resort to ghost flights just to avoid losing the ability to fly into any given airport. The reason is because of fewer travelers due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Environmental advocacy group Greenpeace said this week that it's concerned about the emissions those flights would create -- and worries that there could be more than 100,000 ghost flights across Europe this winter.
"We're in a climate crisis, and the transport sector has the fastest-growing emissions in the EU," Greenpeace spokesman Herwig Schuster said in a statement.
"Pointless, polluting 'ghost flights' are just the tip of the iceberg. It would be irresponsible of the EU to not take the low-hanging fruit of ending ghost flights and banning short-haul flights where there's a reasonable train connection."
"Under normal circumstances, airlines are required to run at least 80% of booked flights to secure their airport slots according to EU law," the environmental group added. "Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the European Commission temporarily reduced this threshold to at least 50% of flights, but it will be increased again to 64% of flights in March."
Greenpeace said that operating 100,000 ghost flights would be the emissions equivalent of 1.4 million vehicles on the road for a year.
Earlier this month, German carrier Lufthansa said it would have to operate about 18,000 ghost flights this winter to keep its runway slots. The airline operates about 17% of all European flights. Greenpeace said those flights alone would emit 360,000 tons of carbon dioxide.