The Another

    France’s short-haul domestic flight ban: A measure lacking substance



    Transport Minister Clément Beaune was brimming with superlatives as he welcomed, on Tuesday, May 23, the start of the ban on short-haul flights within France. He called it a “powerful message,” a “strong symbol,” and a “world first.” But in reality, the measure will have a limited impact on the fight against global warming. This is a far cry from initial ambitions.

    One in 40 domestic flights affected

    The idea of ​​eliminating air travel when it can be easily replaced by another mode of transport has been gaining ground in public debate in recent years. The aim is to combat climate change, with domestic flights accounting for around 0.5% of total French CO2 broadcasts (and even more if we also count the effect of contrails formed by aircraft).

    The government’s measure is based on a simple principle: ban routes for which there is an alternative train journey of less than two and a half hours. In practice, however, only three routes are affected by the ban: Paris-Orly to Bordeaux, Paris-Orly to Lyon and Paris-Orly to Nantes.

    With fewer than 5,000 journeys a year, these flights account for only a tiny proportion of France’s domestic air traffic, which totals almost 200,000 a year (2.5%). The measure affects around 500,000 passengers a year, out of a total of 16 million (3.1%). Two of these routes (Paris-Orly to Bordeaux and Paris-Orly to Lyon) had already been discontinued by Air France in 2020 at the government’s request, while the third (Paris-Orly to Nantes) was discontinued at the company’s own decision.

    Ambitions scaled back

    “A commitment honoured,” Emmanuel Macron congratulated himself on announcing the implementation of the ban. Yet while the president claims to have taken up a proposal “resulting from the work of the Citizens’ Climate Convention (CCC),” the measure implemented today is far from the initial ambition of the 150 citizens who were randomly selected to work on reducing France’s carbon footprint. In its report published in 2020, the CCC called for the elimination of all flights where a rail alternative of less than four hours is available.

    Only 2.5% of domestic flights are affected

    Out of 200,000 domestic trips made by air in 2021, about 35,000 would have been cut with the CCC's proposal (less than 4 hours), and 5,000 are cut by the government's plan.

    Source: DGAC/The world (2021 data for mainland France and Corsica)

    Note: Due to a lack of data on how traffic is split between Paris-Orly and Paris-Roissy, we have cautiously estimated they each receive about half of the traffic for the Paris-Bordeaux, Paris-Lyon and Paris-Nantes routes.

    Although Macron had promised to push through the CCC’s “unfiltered” proposals, he ultimately opted for a less ambitious scheme. The 2021 Climate and Resilience Act only provides for a ban on domestic flights if the alternative is less than two and a half hours. This theoretically targeted eight air routes, for 12,000 annual journeys. However, the measure was once again weakened when the decree implementing the law was drafted, providing for exemptions to retain certain routes.

    Thus, three lines were “saved” in the name of the inadequacy of alternative rail services. The Paris-Charles-de-Gaulle to Rennes, Paris-Charles-de-Gaulle to Lyon and Lyon-Marseille routes can, admittedly, be made by train in less than two and a half hours, but SNCF timetables do not allow passengers to arrive early enough or late enough at the airport concerned, the government reasoned.

    Two other threatened lines, Paris-Charles-de-Gaulle to Bordeaux and Paris-Charles-de-Gaulle to Nantes, were ultimately kept in place due to the method chosen by the government to calculate rail alternatives. While it takes less than two and a half hours to get from Bordeaux or Nantes to the center of Paris by TGV, the government took the view that the journey time to Charles-de-Gaulle airport, located on the outskirts of the capital, should be measured. This pushed these links over the fateful two-and-a-half-hour mark, and begs the question: aren’t the majority of journeys made to reach the capital, rather than the airport?

    Very limited effect on global warming

    Implemented in the name of climate change, the government’s measure will have only a very limited effect on France’s greenhouse gas emissions, and even on the scale of aviation. The savings generated will be in the order of 55,000 tons of CO2 per year, estimated the French Civil Aviation Authority. This represents approximately:

    It is also interesting to compare the carbon footprint of different modes of transport. On average, a passenger on a domestic flight emits 258g of CO2 equivalent per kilometer traveled (including drag), compared with 147g by car, ie half as much, and 3.34g by TGV, ie around 80 times less.

    Translation of an original article published in English on; the publisher may only be liable for the French version.

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