Fact check: How many private jets actually flew in to Davos?

It’s a statistic found all across the media. Here are just a few representative headlines, from Business Insider, the Daily Mail, Newsweek, and Stern:

1,700 Private Jets Are Flying Tons Of Billionaires And Celebrities To Switzerland Right Now
Around 1,700 private jets flying in to Davos… for World Economic Forum meeting to discuss climate change and global warming
1,700 Private Jets Descend on Davos For World Economic Forum
Mit 1700 Privat-Jets für die Umwelt streiten

The problem is that it isn’t true. The original source of the statistic seems to be this comparatively sober CNN Money story, which cites WINGX Advance, a tracking firm, as saying that “roughly 1,700 private flights are expected over the course of the week.”

But look a bit closer at that number. For one thing, WINGX says that the 1,700 number “is twice as many as normal” – which means that normally, even when there’s no major conference going on in Davos, there are roughly 850 flights. As a result, the number of Davos-related flights should be given as 850, not 1,700.

But in fact it’s much lower than that, as the other numbers in the CNN Money story would indicate. NetJets, for instance, says that it “it will operate about 80 flights in and out of the region over the week,” while rival Vistajet is operating about 20. Those numbers seem much closer to reality.

So, what explains the discrepancy? I asked WINGX, and it turns out that the 1,700 number doesn’t actually measure jets at all: it measures something called “movements.” A typical jet, for instance, might fly its plutocratic payload into Zurich airport to drop off its passengers, then fly to Dubendorf to park, then fly back to Zurich for pick-up, and then fly out of Switzerland altogether. That’s four flights, and six “movements,” because taking off from Zurich and landing in Dubendorf count as a movement each.

And while some billionaires are surely happy for their jets to sit idle for the entire week of Davos, many corporate jets will be used for other purposes during the week before coming back. Essentially, the Zurich area is becoming a temporary hub for a lot of non-Davos-related private aviation, all of which is being included in the “1,700 jets” figure.

So how many private jets are flying in to Davos? If you take the 850 number and divide it by 4, that gets about 210; dividing by 5 gets you 170. Call it 200 altogether, not 1,700. The headlines, it seems, are off by an entire order of magnitude.


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