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Willa Air is Not For the People or the Planet

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Willa, an online payments company that caters to social media creators, has launched an airline called Willa Air to better support influencers. On April 15, its first voyage offered 12 content creators a free and exclusive flight to this month’s Coachella festival in the Empire Polo Club. However, the problem with Willa Air is exactly that: it caters to the rich, which amplifies the friction between the nation’s wealthiest and those living paycheck to paycheck. 

Willa launched in 2019 with the goal of helping content creators handle transactions with their clients. Now, the company has expanded its services to include an exclusive airline for social content creators who are at least 18 years old. While Willa has not specified what it considers a content creator to be, the application on its website requires an Instagram handle. 

Travel Noire reports that the 12 guests will enjoy drinks at a pre-flight champagne bar, breakfast at Willa’s Venice Beach lounge massages and more.

It would not be far-fetched to say that Willa Air is a private jet. Both socially and environmentally, there is no difference between an exclusive flight for 12 young adults, enhanced by luxury meals, free alcohol and a private aircraft for politicians. Thus, the controversy that surrounds Willa Air follows the same issues other private jet companies face. 

Research from Transport & Environment, a Brussels-based campaign, shows that “private jets are five to 14 times more polluting than commercial planes (per passenger).” The report also found that European private plane emissions rose 31% between 2005 and 2019, as opposed to the 25% increase for commercial aviation. The spike in private emissions is caused by the wealthy’s decision to continue flying during pandemic restrictions, a trend that affected the United States as well, where emissions from private jets rose from 6.3 to 7.9%

To make matters worse, private jets are never flown at full capacity, which means that the emissions they produce are wasted because fewer passengers are on board. Private jets also fly around empty because they need to travel from location to location to pick up the next passengers, meaning that they waste more carbon than they should. By contrast, commercial flights, which carry up to hundreds of passengers, are akin to carpools.

Willa Air, like many before it, deepens the divide between the rich and the average man. The separation stems not just from the fact that these rich celebrities enjoy luxuries the general population can only dream of, but also from the manner in which these rich individuals tarnish the environment yet suffer no consequences. 

In 2020, a report compiled by Oxfam and the Stockholm Environment Institute found that the “richest 10% of the global population are responsible for 52% of global emissions.” This contributes to the notion that to be wealthy is to exist with near impunity and furthers the social divide between the classes. Shouldn’t those with economic and social power be more responsible for protecting the environment and upholding moral standards? 

One way these rich private jet owners can lessen their impact is through alternative fueling for their jets.

Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) is a promising alternative. SAF is made from renewable resources, so it flies just as well as a petroleum-powered plane while producing fewer greenhouse gasses. Most notably, SAF helped the aviation sector fulfill its mission. In 2009, the International Air Transport Association pledged to cut CO2 emissions by half by 2050. At the time, the idea seemed far-fetched, but the Waypoint 2050 report in 2020 showed that the goal has been reached.  Even more importantly, the report confirmed that achieving net-zero emissions by 2060 is possible. The factors that helped IATA reach its goals were lighter aircraft, hydrogen and electric-powered aircraft, and SAF; however, out of these three, “Waypoint 2050 has identified SAF as a key driver of change”, reducing emissions by 50 to 75%. Adopting this method would give those who have private jets a chance to show the public that they care about the earth and its inhabitants. 

However, there’s doubt that Willa Air will consider SAF because there is no pushback from activists, and its aim, as told by Willa Air Co-founder and Chief Marketing Officer Aron Levin himself, is to support the rich

Like many wealthy companies before and after it, Willa Air will continue to make money by profiting off the planet, and it will broaden the divide between the rich and the underprivileged.

Mariam Jawhar is an Opinion Intern for the spring 2022 quarter. She can be reached at mjawhar@uci.edu.