They tell us we should fly less to help save the planet, but Scottish civil servants made 10,000 flights within Britain in the past year - more than twice the average for government agencies.
A major investigation by the Sunday Herald has unmasked the Scottish Executive as by far the most frequent flier in the public sector. Officials take about 40 flights between Scotland and England every working day, belching out a massive 4000 tonnes of climate-wrecking pollution every year.
Scottish ministers have also made 87 air journeys within the British mainland in the last year, all of which could have been made by train. The finance minister, Tom McCabe, made 16 trips, followed by the minister for parliamentary business, Margaret Curran, who made 10.
Other high fliers were the deputy enterprise minister Allan Wilson, the former solicitor general Colin Boyd and the first minister Jack McConnell. Each made eight journeys by air, mainly to London and back (see table below).
Because flying is the most environmentally damaging way to travel, ministers have been urging members of the public to switch from plane to train for trips to London. The Executive has also suggested that holidaymakers "avoid flying altogether" by staying in Scotland.
The revelations have astonished environmentalists, who accuse the Executive of "truly shocking" behaviour. Civil servants' love of flying has also drawn sharp criticism from the government's leading green advisors.
Jan Bebbington, vice chair of the Sustainable Development Commission, said: "If we are serious about climate change, we need to make big inroads to emissions now. All parts of society have a role to play, but government needs to show leadership on this issue."
The Executive's record on air travel within mainland Britain is by far the worst of government organisations in Scotland. Over the past year it had an average of 2.22 flights per member of staff, compared to an average of just under one for 15 public sector agencies.
Figures released in response to requests under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act show that Executive officials made a total of 5509 journeys by air within Britain between October 2005 and September 2006. The vast majority were return trips to London, meaning that the total number of individual flights topped 10,000.
This is far more than the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, exposed by the Sunday Herald in November for making 1500 flights within the British mainland. It also exceeds by a long way the number of flights per member of staff made by Scottish Enterprise, Scottish Water, the Forestry Commission and the Crown Office (see table below).
It is also despite repeated official acknowledgements that air is the most climate-wrecking mode of transport because of the pollution emitted by planes. "Our goal," stated the Executive's national transport strategy last month, "should be to promote rail as a more sustainable alternative."
Dr Richard Dixon, director of the environmental group WWF Scotland, was shocked by the Executive's behaviour. He estimated that its annual flights were responsible for 3000-4000 tonnes of "carbon equivalent" pollution.
"They have clearly got the balance wrong," he said. "They should be setting a good example if they hope to convince the rest of us to make the right travel choices."
The Executive's flights did not come cheap either. At a total cost of £1.25 million, each air journey averaged £226. This compares to a £144 business saver rail ticket from Edinburgh to London.
According to the Executive's figures, two air journeys between Edinburgh and London cost over £1000 each, though they may have involved more than one person. As well as flying to London, officials take planes from Edinburgh or Glasgow to Inverness, Manchester and Birmingham.
The high cost of flying has aggravated some civil servants. "It annoys me out of my head that if I booked it myself from the internet, some of these flights are 99p," one is quoted as saying in an Executive staff travel survey published on Friday.
The survey concluded, however, that the environmental impact of flying was only "a consideration for a minority". No more than a third of staff were aware of the Executive's travel plan, which is meant to encourage them to make climate-friendly choices.
The survey also provided an insight into why civil servants seem so fond of flying. "It's the enjoyment factor of going down on a plane to be honest," was how one official put it.
Said another: "There's a real assumption if you go to London you fly down. I think it's just bizarre." The survey showed that 77% of officials who have travelled to London on business in the past 12 months went by air on their last trip.
The Executive was accused of having a "flying addiction" by Friends of the Earth Scotland. "Domestic flights are almost always avoidable, so these figures are not only truly astonishing but will have resulted in a large amount of unnecessary climate pollution," said FoE Scotland chief executive, Duncan McLaren.
The Executive pointed out that it paid a levy of £5 a journey to "offset" the polluting carbon emissions of air travel. But it said that none of the money had so far been invested in projects designed to cut carbon pollution.
According to McLaren, the Executive had so far raised £75,000 for carbon offsetting. "The Executive would be better off investing it in rail passes for staff and improved video-conferencing facilities," he argued.
Green MSP Mark Ballard said his party tried to avoid air travel whenever possible. "While ministers and MSPs may have little option but to fly on occasion, it should only be an absolute last resort," he said.
The Scottish Executive insisted that "value for money is our watchword". A spokeswoman said: "Ministers and civil servants are required to make efficient and cost-effective travel arrangements."
They had to travel to ensure that they effectively represented the people they served, she added. The finance minister, Tom McCabe, needed to have regular contact with his UK counterpart to discuss the budget.
McCabe travelled to London by train last week. "However, air travel can sometimes be the only option after time constraints and work pressures on ministerial diaries are taken into consideration," the spokeswoman said.
"We recognise that we must address our contribution to climate change." she added. "We are committed to reduce our emissions from business travel, covering all modes, by 5% between 2005-06 and 2010-11."
But this target was dismissed as "modest" by ministerial advisor Jan Bebbington. "The first task must be to reduce the impact, either by shifting to alternate forms of travel such as rail, or making greater use of IT and video conferencing," she said.
"The Sustainable Development Commission is here to provide independent advice to the Scottish Executive on sustainable development, and we will now be looking to support work that helps the Executive better factor time, cost and carbon considerations into their decision-making on travel."
The information released by the Scottish Executive on flights can be download from here.
MAINLAND FLIGHTS BY PUBLIC AGENCIES
organisation / number of mainland flights in last year / number of staff / flights per member of staff
Scottish Executive / 10,000 / 4,500 / 2.22
Scottish Arts Council / 115 / 90 / 1.28
Scottish Environment Protection Agency / 1,500 / 1,200 / 1.25
Audit Scotland / 359 / 300 / 1.2
Health Scotland / 187 / 180 / 1.04
Scottish Enterprise / 2,062 / 2,393 / 0.86
Communities Scotland / 274 / 437 / 0.63
Historic Scotland / 430 / 971 / 0.44
Cairngorms National Park / 18 / 61 / 0.29
Scottish Water / 760 / 3,500 / 0.22
Forestry Commission Scotland / 214 / 1,167 / 0.18
Energy Savings Trust / 27 / 160 / 0.17
Crown Office / 272 / 1,650 / 0.16
Loch Lomond & Trossachs National Park / 16 / 133 / 0.12
Sustainable Development Commission / 7 / 65 / 0.11
Totals / 16, 241 / 16,807 / 0.97
Visit Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage and Highlands and Islands Enterprise were unable to provide complete information.
source: public agencies
MAINLAND FLIGHTS BY SCOTTISH MINISTERS
minister / brief / number of mainland flights in last year (return and one-way) / total cost
Tom McCabe / finance and public service reform / 16 / £3,198
Margaret Curran / parliamentary business / 10 / £1,834
Allan Wilson / enterprise and lifelong learning / 8 / £2,012
Colin Boyd / solicitor general / 8 / £1,875
Jack McConnell / first minister / 8 / £1,612
Elish Angiolini / lord advocate / 6 / £1,674
Ross Finnie / environment and rural development / 6 / £1,452
Nicol Stephen / enterprise and lifelong learning / 4 / £1,118
Cathy Jamieson / justice / 4 / £937
Patricia Ferguson / tourism, culture and sport / 4 / £843
Lewis MacDonald / health and community care / 4 / £797
George Lyon / finance and public service reform / 2 / £536
Rhona Brankin / environment and rural development / 2 / £514
Andy Kerr / health and community care / 2 / £322
Peter Peacock / education and young people / 2 / £257
Malcolm Chisholm / communities / 1 / £355
totals / 87 / £19,336
average cost per journey: £222.25
source: Scottish Executive