French ban on short-haul flights deemed legal in huge step for sustainable travel

Maho Beach, St. Maarten - November 15, 2013: An Air France Airbus A340 descends for a landing at Princess Juliana International Airport on St. Maarten; people on Maho Beach watch the landing.

France will officially move ahead with its ban on short-haul domestic flights, after receiving approval from the European Commission (EC).

In a decision published last week, the EC noted that the ban, which is part of France’s Climate Law, would apply to domestic routes that take less than two and a half hours via bus or train, effectively banning routes connecting Paris-Orly and Bordeaux, Nantes and Lyon.

However, the French government noted that future improvements in the rail services, in particular for the purposes of connecting flights, will enable more routes to be added to the ban.

The European Union (EU) is working on a series of new high-speed rail lines as part of its TEN-T project, in an effort to make more short-haul flights redundant, including opening a 60-kilometre tunnel linking Milan to Paris that would see the seven-hour trip cut in half.

France’s Transport Minister Clément Beaune said the EC’s approval was a major step forward.

“I am proud that France is a pioneer in this area,” he said in a statement.

French lawmakers voted in favour of the ban in April 2021 as part of the country’s plan to reduce carbon emissions.

About 12 per cent of France’s domestic flights will be affected by the ban according to the Guardian, which also noted that carbon emissions for each passenger on a domestic flight is 70 per cent higher than long haul routes, which is six times higher than if the trip was taken via rail.

The EC’s decision to approve the ban came after extended in-fighting within the commission and was finally deemed legal on the condition that it is limited to three years, reviewed after two years and extended to cover connecting flights.

Thomas Gelin, Greenpeace EU climate campaigner, said the ban was a baby step in the right direction.

“The small improvement the EU has asked the French government for is welcome – but now it’s time to remove any outstanding ambiguity and make it clear to other EU countries that banning short-haul flights is the way to go for the future,” Gelin said.

“It’s high time for Europe to curtail the aviation industry’s skyrocketing emissions and invest in climate-friendly transport instead.”

The commission is currently planning to revise the Air Services Regulation, which allows EU governments to suspend flights when there are serious environmental problems but which limits those measures to three years.

According to Greenpeace, this year-long challenge of the French ban shows this provision should be revised to ensure all EU governments can ban short-haul flights without fear of protracted challenges by the aviation lobby.

Greenpeace is calling for a ban on short-haul flights with reasonable alternatives, meaning rail or ferry under six hours (whereas the French ban is limited to train alternatives of two and a half hours or less).


Image: iStock/Joel Carillet

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