France bans short domestic flights, but little change
When the French government officially enacted a ban on short domestic flights this week, it hailed the move as proof that France was at the forefront of ambitious climate change policies. But reviewers say it’s a lot of ado about next to nothing.
“We are the first to do so,” wrote President Emmanuel Macron in a celebratory message. on Twitterwhich also included an image that read “Promise Kept” stamped in green ink.
At first glance, the promise seems to have been kept: any flight between two cities that can be replaced by a train journey of less than 2h30 is prohibited. In a country smaller than Texas with an extensive high-speed rail network, that would seem to rule out a lot of domestic flights.
But appearances can be deceiving.
The executive order formalizing the ban, which was released on Tuesday, is riddled with exceptions.
It only applies to cities linked by a direct train service running “several times a day” and allowing travelers to spend a minimum of eight hours at their destination.
It does not apply to connecting flights and provides an exception for Paris Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport, one of the busiest passenger hubs in Europe, so that air connections between Charles de Gaulle and other French cities will be maintained.
Finally, given that a significant share of national high-speed train traffic passes through Paris, only a limited number of towns far from the capital have a direct rail service between them that would satisfy the rules of the decree.
In the end, only three roads are really cut, those between Paris-Orly airport and the cities of Nantes, Bordeaux and Lyon.
The exceptions are intended to ensure that rail service between two cities is robust enough before flights between those same destinations are banned. But for critics, the confusing jumble of conditions rendered the measure largely toothless.
“All this fuss, for not that much,” said Geneviève Laferrère, who handles transport issues for France Nature Environnement, a federation of environmental groups.
Ms Laferrère acknowledged the ban could have an “educational” impact, further encouraging travelers to seek alternatives to flying. But she said the government had missed an opportunity to act more forcefully, adding: “There are so many constraints that efficiency has disappeared.”
The ban on short domestic flights was part of a sweeping climate change law passed in 2021 with the aim of reducing France’s greenhouse gas emissions. Mr Macron’s government recently unveiled an accelerated roadmap to reduce them by 50% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels.
The government insists the ban is an important step in that direction.
“This is an essential step and a strong symbol in our policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Clément Beaune, France’s transport minister, said of the flight ban in a statement. statement Tuesday, who announced the measure as a “world’s first.”
Although the ban was only enacted this week, airlines had already been following it for several years. In 2020, during the Covid-19 pandemic, the government forced Air France to cut certain routes in exchange for financial aid of several billion euros; he then forbade competitors from rushing to fill the void.
But formal implementation of the ban has been delayed after the airline industry lodged complaints with the European Commission, which gave the law the green light in December. The ban will apply for at least three years, after which the French authorities will analyze its impact before taking further measures.
Nicolas Paulissen, executive director of the French Airports Union, said the airline industry was happy with the limited impact of the ban but feared it would set a precedent for tougher measures.
“Tackling domestic flights does not solve the problem of CO2 emissions from air transport,” Paulissen added.
In 2019, domestic flights accounted for just 4% of the French transport industry’s CO2 emissions, according to official statistics.
And according to an analysis of civil aviation data by Le Monde, the three routes that will be cut represent only around 5,000 flights per year, or less than 3% of the total number of annual domestic flights in France. French authorities have acknowledged that cutting off these three routes only reduces emissions by around 55,000 tonnes of CO2 per year.
Laurent Donceel, acting chief executive of Airlines For Europe, an industry lobby group for Europe’s biggest flagship and low-cost airlines, said on Wednesday countries should focus on “tangible” goals. “, such as sustainable aviation fuel and electric and hydrogen aircraft. . He noted that airlines have pledged to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
“Instead of pursuing token bans, governments must strive to advance these real and meaningful solutions,” Donceel said in a statement.
But Ms Laferrère, from France Nature Environnement, said the government also needed to make rail travel more attractive, by helping the national railway company lower ticket prices and investing more in rail infrastructure.
Moreover, she said, if the ban on short-haul flights only encourages French airports to reallocate more take-off slots to long-haul flights, “we are not going to save a lot of CO2 “.