France has recently passed a bill in parliament to ban short-haul flights in cases where there is a train alternative available that takes 2.5 hours or less. While France hailed this as a pioneering move, environmentalists argue that the law has been significantly weakened.
The ban emerged as part of a 2020 agreement made during the pandemic to provide financial aid to the national carrier, Air France. As air travel came to a standstill and passengers turned to trains, the government imposed conditions on the airline to curtail certain short-haul routes in order to meet environmental goals.
Although the ban has now become law, its implementation was delayed due to airlines requesting the European Commission to examine its legality. The Commission ultimately determined that the ban was permissible.
Curiously, despite the ban being seen as a step in the right direction, environmentalists have expressed dissatisfaction for several reasons:
- The ban on short-haul flights in France originated from a Citizen’s Convention, which proposed a more stringent restriction of banning all flights if a train journey of 6 hours or less was available. This proposal aimed to reduce flights even further but was not included in the final ban. The Citizen’s Convention was established by President Macron in response to the Yellow Vest protests against social inequality.
- The chosen cutoff point of 2.5 hours for train journeys corresponds to just under the travel time from Marseille, one of France’s major cities on the Mediterranean. If the ban had been set at 3 hours, more flights would have been replaced by train travel.
- Specific flight routes, such as those between Marseille and Lyon, which are less than 2 hours apart by train, are exempt from the ban. Flights between Rennes and Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris are also not affected. The regulations stipulate that train schedules must be frequent enough to allow travelers to spend 8 hours at their destination and make a round trip within a single day.
- The ban does not extend to connecting flights from outside of France. Additionally, the ban does not cover private jets, despite strong campaigning by environmentalists in the country. France sees a significant number of private jet journeys, with the most frequent route in 2022 being between Paris and Nice. Private jets emit four times more carbon per person than commercial flights and 800 times more than train travel, according to Le Monde.
The passage of the bill is considered a historic move as it effectively prevents airlines from operating flights between several major French cities, such as Nantes, Lyon, Bordeaux, and Paris. The legislation explicitly prohibits airlines from establishing new services to fill the gap left by the banned flights.
Although Greenpeace France views the bill as insufficient, it recognizes it as a small step in the right direction. The organization is now urging the European Union to advocate for similar bans in other countries to address the climate crisis. The French government also plans to expand the list of banned routes when the legislation is reviewed in three years’ time.
While private jets are currently not covered by the ban, the French government is considering increasing charges on private jet usage starting in 2024. In a similar vein, Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport recently unveiled environmental plans for the area that will no longer accommodate private jets.