Oftentimes people feel guilty about traveling by plane. Moreover, whenever a government tries to tackle the hideous air pollution produced by car gas pipe exhaust in our cities, protesters raise the objection that they should better worry about air pollution coming from jets. Now let’s do the math about, we’ll be surprised.
An airliner, jet or turboprop, consumes an average 2,8 L of fuel per 100 kilometer/passenger
If we are to take into account that a car consumes an average 9 L of fuel per kilometer, to be more fuel-efficient than a plane, it should carry at least 4 passengers. More about it here.
Even with the same fuel consumption per kilometer/passenger as a jet, a car is less ecological than a jet, for a simple reason. They both produce carbon dioxide, several poisonous, toxic and cancerous gases, and particulates (p.m. 2, 5 and p.m. 10) as a result of their internal combustion engines. But while the former spits its gas from its exhaust pipe, which is a few meters from our nostrils, the latter emits exhaust gas at high altitude, far from our nostrils. Especially since most of the health damage caused by internal combustion engines stems from particulates, the health burden coming from car gas exhaust is much greater than that of jets.
Indeed, particulates emitted from jet engines normally precipitate to the ground mixed with raindrops; the most part of it is therefore not inhaled by human beings. Even though a percentage of it are carried by the wind and could land populated areas, that is by far inferior to the percentage of car exhaust particulate which floats in the air of any city worldwide.
What about private jets?
For smaller planes, like those for private jet charter, the equation is less faborable, since their fuel consumption per kilometer passenger is greater. What counts is the total weight of the aircraft divided by the number of passengers it carries. The same can be said for cars and buses, the latter being more fuel-efficient on a kilometer per passenger basis. We could roughly estimate that a private jet fully loaded gets the same consumption per kilometer passenger as a car carrying 2 passengers.
What about electric cars?
Of course electric cars are much more fuel-efficient and ecological. Even if the electricity they consume were produced burning fossil fuels, and electric car can drive hundred kilometers with the electricity produced by roughly 1 1/2 L of gas.
Will electric planes match the fuel efficiency of electric cars?
Most likely, electric planes will be as fuel-efficient as electric cars, even more. Although their stage of the development is several years behind that of electric cars, there are some promising prototypes of electric planes coming to the market pretty soon.