Ryanair and Wizzair’s emissions last year surpassed those of 2019. New analysis of aviation industry data by T&E finds that Ryanair was again Europe’s top polluting airline last year, emitting 13.3 million tonnes of CO2. Wizz Air, the 8th most polluting airline, emitted 3.7 million tonnes of CO2. This rapid recovery goes against all pledges made by airlines of building back better after the pandemic, says T&E.
Long-haul airlines, on the other hand, are not yet back to pre-COVID levels of flying – in part due to greater Covid restrictions on routes outside Europe. Lufthansa and Air France emitted 8.7 and 8.1 million tonnes respectively. Lufthansa is back to 67% of its 2019 emissions and Air France at 84%.
Roman Mauroschat, aviation policy officer at T&E, says:
“The sector has clearly not been building back better. This talk of a green recovery during the pandemic was misleading. Airlines should get their act together and pour more money for green fuels and clean aircraft.”
Long-haul carriers like Air France and Lufthansa paid very little for their pollution in 2022, when taking their global emissions into account. Air France paid an average of €6 per tonne of carbon in 2022 for its flights worldwide, T&E analysis of new data on the EU carbon market shows*. Under the rules of the carbon market, short-haul carriers must pay much more for their emissions. Ryanair paid an average of €44 per tonne of carbon. Neither of these are sufficient to tackle the growing problem of aviation emissions in line with the demands of the planet, says T&E.
European airlines are subject to carbon markets that are riddled with exemptions. Airlines only have to pay for emissions for flights within the EEA, the UK and Switzerland, meaning that long-haul flights are exempt from carbon pricing. This is why short-haul carriers, operating mainly in Europe, have to pay more per tonne of carbon than their long-haul counterparts. Airlines also receive free allowances for their European flights, further reducing the price of CO2. As a result, the carbon price which is currently set at around €100 per tonne of carbon is reduced to less than €10 for some long-haul carriers.
This has trickle-down effects on airline tickets. Airlines paid €4 per passenger for the CO2 emissions on a flight from Paris to Berlin in 2022. But on a flight from Paris to New York, they did not pay a cent. If the carbon market was extended to all departing flights, T&E calculated that Air France would pay an added €26 per passenger for its carbon footprint.
Roman Mauroschat concludes: “Airlines are emitting large quantities of CO2 without paying the appropriate price for their pollution. The EU is making a mockery of the polluter pays principle. Although new rules will get rid of free allowances by 2026, the carbon market is still not up to the challenge and fails to address the biggest bulk of emissions”
 The analysis includes emissions of all flights departing from EU member states, Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and the United Kingdom (UK).
 Airlines are subject to a EU carbon market, but also one in Switzerland and in the UK.
 Excluding flights between the UK and Swiss, for which the respective carbon markets were interlinked as of 2023.
 Long-haul flights are covered by an offsetting scheme called CORSIA, which only applies to emissions above those of 2019 levels. As traffic from long-haul flights remains below this level, most emissions are exempt from any carbon pricing instrument.
*Figure updated on 11 April, after Air France published its ETS data.