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This is a notable claim by Friedrich Merz, head of the CDU party and a member of the German parliament:

„Ich bereue nicht, dass ich zur Hochzeit von Christian Lindner geflogen bin. Um es mal auf den Punkt zu bringen: Mit meinem Kleinflugzeug verbrauche ich weniger Sprit als jeder #Dienstwagen eines Mitglieds der #Bundesregierung. Und deswegen fliege ich.“

(Link to Tweet)

Translation (via deepl.com):

"I have no regrets about flying to Christian Lindner's wedding. To put it in a nutshell: With my small plane I use less fuel than any #servicecar of a member of the #federalgovernment. And that's why I fly."

I'm very skeptical about this claim with regard to fuel usage. Aviation fuels cannot easily compared to fuel used for cars. Thus, it is hard to say what "uses more fuel" actually means. A literal reading would probably compare those fuels by volume in litres. Whilst I'd appreciate debunking or verifying the claim on that basis, I'd also be interested in how the carbon footprint stacks up (car vs plane) to be able to judge if — even if the literal claim would be true — it might be misleading.

Another thing to consider: How many electric cars are available for members of parliament. If an electric car had been available, this would debunk the literal claim immediately, but again, a comparison based on the carbon footprint (what kind of energy mix was available that day to [re-]charge the car) would be interesting.

Also relevant for discussion: The route via plane might be shorter than via car (although not necessarily). Answers should focus an the general claim (car vs. plane) but also consider the special circumstances of this route. I have not been able to find the actual flight data recording of the route.

The aircraft in question seems to be an DA62 (Source, in German).

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    Its going to depend hugely on the route. For example, I fly light GA aircraft. From where I live if I try to drive from Herts to Kent its a long 2+hr slog round the London Orbital Motorway (M25). I can fly it in 25 minutes. Time=emissions.
    – Jamiec
    Jul 25 at 13:28
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    Considering that the 'efficient' planes in JoeW's link are returning 15-30 mpg, and an efficient modern car can get double that, it looks like one of those spurious "on good day" claims. Jul 25 at 13:41
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    It seems from the translation that the comparison is with an official goverment car, not their own little VW Up! or similar. Jul 25 at 13:57
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    There's also the issue that an airplane is significantly more limited to the number of locations it can start and end a trip on than a car, so unless both your starting point and destination are within five minutes' walking distance of an airfield, you're still worse off.
    – Shadur
    Jul 25 at 13:57
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    @Criggie, except that his DA62 is diesel (which uses cleaner Jet-A fuel than what car diesels use), no lead there.
    – Zeus
    Jul 26 at 2:26

1 Answer 1

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This article (in German) has done further research and calculations that all seem to add up. Their verdict is that Friedrich Merz's flight did not use less fuel than other German cabinet member. In fact, the only member that could potentially have caused more or an equal amount is chancellor Olaf Scholz, because his official limousine is heavily armored and therefore very heavy. Merz's literal statement can therefore be considered false.

I will translate the key paragraphs here:

Radarbox tracked Merz' flight with an estimated flight duration of 2 hours. The producer of the aircraft estimates 44.7 litres of fuel per flight hour at 60% capacity. Other sources estimate more based on test reviews, around 56 litres per hour. This means the flight might have used up to 112 litres of diesel - roughly equivalent to Scholz' limousine with 109 litres. Calculations from the Swiss Federal Agency for Civil Aviation estimate the CO2 equivalent of Merz's flight at 282 kilograms, whereas Scholz's drive would have caused 35 kg less.

Other members of German parliament do not even drive such heavy vehicles or even use electric cars, whose equivalent CO2 output is way less. Cem Özdemirs drive with an Audi e-Tron Sportback 55 would have caused 46 kg of real CO2 emissions.

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    Note that when talking about carbon emissions you instantly get into the whole mess of how to calculate them correctly. For example, do you include emissions due to production as well? In that case, an airplane will amortize those much better, since they typically fly for many decades, whereas cars are replaced much more often. All of this is, however, irrelevant anyway, since the original claim is solely about fuel usage. Jul 25 at 20:54
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    ICE cars produce the majority of their carbon emissions after production, so the carbon cost of manufacturing amortizing over a longer period isn't a super great argument. epa.gov/greenvehicles/electric-vehicle-myths#Myth5
    – Aaron
    Jul 25 at 21:22
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    While DA62 is not quite a "limousine" (only some biz-jets could be compared to that), it's a nice modern (by GA standards) twin-engine aeroplane. While it's quite efficient (comparable fuel burn to an older single-engine Cessna 182 of similar capacity), Merz could have used a single-engine DA40 and actually beat Scholz.
    – Zeus
    Jul 26 at 2:40
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    @Zeus wouldn't be a fair comparison unless the aeroplane was heavily armoured, or if the point was that Scholz wouldn't need armour if he flew
    – user253751
    Jul 26 at 12:19
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    @user253751 Airplanes have no need for heavy armour. Airports can be secured on the ground, and heavy armour is useless mid-flight.
    – gerrit
    Jul 27 at 13:59

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