France to ban short-haul domestic flights

Last week, France’s National Assembly voted a ban on domestic flights that can be covered by a train journey in under 2.5 hours. The 2.5 hour line fixed is an attempt to find a middle ground between lowering carbon emissions from transport, whilst avoiding a hard blow to the air travel industry, already weakened by the past year’s Covid-19 travel restrictions. Reducing air travel is part of a bigger plan to lower France’s carbon emissions by 40% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels. The bill has caused debate between the citizens’ climate convention set up by President Emmanuel Macron, and France’s airlines. On one hand, the High Council on Climate (HCC) considers that the limit, 2.5 hours, which was originally meant to be 4 hours, is much too low. The 4 hour limit was reduced after airline representatives objected that the airline industry has already suffered and doesn’t need additional slowing down of its activities.

Banning flights that can be covered by a four-hour long train journey would have suppressed 18 connections, lowering carbon emissions by 12.5%. For a four-hour flight, air travel produces 77% more carbon emissions per passenger than for the same distance with France’s high-speed TGV trains. Instead, only 5 connections were suppressed. In 2019, these represented only 10% of all of France’s air traffic – constituting a 3% decrease of carbon emissions, not considered enough to make a real impact. France has already overrun on its 2015-2018 carbon budget by emitting more than 61 Mt eqCO2 (millions of tonnes equivalent) and is currently not reducing its emissions at a fast enough rate, according to climatologist and HCC president Corinne Le Quéré. 

Moreover, the ban came a few days after it was revealed that the French government was supplying state aid of 4 billion euros to help the recovery of Air France, France’s flag-carrier airline. Agnès Pannier-Runacher, the Minister Delegate in charge of industry, insisted that there is no contradiction between banning short flights and providing financial support to Air France saying that the government is accompanying the industry as it transitions to a new business model, and states that her vision of 2030 is one where there are fewer carbon emissions but just as many planes. However, at the same time French and British governments have said they will not bailout Eurostar which will be one of the key replacements of short haul flights between the UK and Europe and a sure fire way to reduce emissions from travel across Europe.

There are two arguments against raising the bar to four hours. First, a ban on 18 flight trajectories would force Air France to lay-off a significant number of staff in both airports and airlines, contributing to the already high unemployment rate. Second, some French territories could find themselves isolated, contributing to the inequity between France’s regions. There are also concerns that giving trains the monopoly and erasing competition from airlines for the same trips could harm the future long-term development of the air travel sector.

At Fly Green Alliance, we believe that flying less for is part of the solution. Doubling of air passengers to 7.8 billion by 2036 doesn’t align with emmission reduction plans and in February this year the European aviation plan ‘Destination 2050’ acknowledged that a reduction of demand by 12% was needed. FGA asks corporate travellers to carefully consider whether business can be conducted online or whether a trip is necessary, something that will undoubtedly be happening going forward since the pandemic has highlighted and made possible changes in habits and ways of working, while increasing the sustainable travel and climate agenda. We ask if a trip can be replaced by rail but we also envision a world with the magnificent technology that makes a plane fly, and believe that adopting other measures in tandem with rail works towards an integrated energy transition plan across the transport sector. 2021 being the European Commission Year of rail which FGA will be supporting through FGA Travel Smart and other initiatives.

Fly Green Alliance is a strong proponent of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF). Contact Sarah Wilkin to find out how your company can transition to a more sustainable travel program.

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