The French government has become the first major economy to ban short-haul flights when there is an alternative to the train or bus of two and a half hours or less – a decision which was voted on in 2021 and comes into force in April 2022 .
The ban is an attempt to reduce the country’s carbon emissions from air travel – a move that The Guardian reported could cut 12% of French domestic flights.
The flights concerned are those from the capital, Paris to cities such as Bordeaux, Nantes or Lyon.
In 2021, the French government bailed out its domestic carrier Air France to the tune of 7 billion euros ($7.9 billion) after suffering losses from the impacts of Covid-19, and it set the condition that the national carrier to become more environmentally conscious.
The French Minister of the Environment, Elisabeth Borne, then declared “we asked Air France to accelerate its environmental transition”, affecting up to 40% of flights where there is a rail link of less than 2h or 2h30. .
The French government has asked other carriers to do the same, noting that the absence of Air France flights could offer low-cost carriers the opportunity to set up shop and offer the same flights. Borne was quoted as saying, “if we ask things from Air France, it’s not so that the low-cost companies can come and launch their own service.”
However, one drawback listed by environmental groups is that the ban only applies to local traffic and not flights linked to international flights – the implication being that it is debatable how much of the estimated reduction 12% of short-haul flights will actually be reached.
Indeed, the government still needs to maintain the competitiveness of Air France flights and a viable alternative on international flights via Paris from cities like Lyon abroad, so that customers do not choose London or Amsterdam as hub instead.
Other EU countries are also adopting similar environmental incentives to reduce carbon emissions from domestic travel. The Austrian government, for example, included a similar condition when bailing out Austrian Airlines that domestic flights should be cut when there is an alternative train journey of less than three hours possible, such as between Vienna and Salzburg.
Greenpeace advocates banning short-haul flights when there is an alternative to the train lasting less than six hours, as reported CNN Traveler. Greenpeace says this would impact a third of Europe’s busiest short flights and eliminate 3.5 million tonnes of carbon emissions per year.