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To fly or not to fly? France’s decision to ban short-haul domestic flights

In May 2023, the French government brought a unique plan into reality – three short-haul domestic flight routes from Paris Orly to Bordeaux, Lyon and Nantes were banned (Walton). The decision became a part of France’s 2021 Climate Law (Reid), which distinguishes the ultimate goal of making transport greener and cleaner to combat climate change.

France's Citizens Convention on Climate was the one to propose introducing the new legislation in the first place (Limb). All three routes are included in an extensive high-speed rail network, enabling the passengers to cover the same distances in short periods, making travelling as comfortable and efficient as flying (Frangoul). As a citizens’ assembly, France's Citizens Convention on Climate recognises the necessity to take urgent and multidimensional action to secure the future of the people living today and the next generations. It opted, however, for a slightly different scenario, as it was in favour of banning all plane journeys where train connections of less than four hours were in place (Peters). Such an idea was opposed by some parties, including the Union of French Airports and the European branch of the Airports Council International (Limb).


Image: Air France

This rise of opposition led to an in-depth investigation conducted by the European Commission with the aim of answering the question of whether the plan could be implemented. In December 2022, it became known that banning the three routes from Paris Orly was approved (Peters). Nevertheless, the final number of affected routes was decreased, as an original request was to ban eight routes total, including the routes from Charles de Gaulle to Lyon, Rennes, Bordeaux and Nantes and the route between Marseille and Lyon (Walton).

The new ban may be considered a huge and serious step that gives hope for a better tomorrow. After all, air travel has been significantly contributing to the increasing amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which amplifies the greenhouse effect, boosting global warming. In 2018, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), aviation (both passenger and freight) accounted for 2.5% of total global carbon dioxide emissions (Ritchie). If this number were to decrease on an international scale, it would likely make a notable difference.

Even so, there are many constraints and downsides associated with the newly introduced ban. Train journeys that are chosen as a replacement for the banned flights need to be timely and frequent, allowing travellers to spend at least eight hours at their chosen destination within a span of a day (Chun). Moreover, the decision targets only three routes from Paris Only; meanwhile, any routes from Roissy-Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris’ main international airport and one of the European busiest passenger hubs, are not affected (Cobbe). Critics argue that the decision will not combat airline emissions in France and is merely a drop in the ocean. Three routes, on which the ban was imposed, account for only around 5,000 flights annually, out of a total of about 200,000 domestic flights within the state (Romain et al.).


Image: Allard Schager via Getty

It can also be said that the ban will not bring about any huge changes, as it is not ambitious by nature. The decision leaves connecting flights unaffected, not targeting private jets as well. According to CE Delft, an independent research and consultancy organisation, 84,885 private jets took off from France, which is the second-highest number of take-offs in Europe (Limb and Yanatma). This piece of information may lead to the conclusion that as long as the government addresses only one side of this multidimensional problem, it fails to change reality and secure the future in the long run.


France has merely touched the tip of the iceberg, and although doing little is still better than nothing, the ban is greatly criticised (BBC News). Laurent Donceel, interim head of the industry group Airlines for Europe, believes that the governments should support ‘real and significant solutions’ rather than ‘symbolic bans’ that will have a small impact on the total amount of emitted greenhouse gases by the country (Cobbe). Even so, the ban is still likely to raise awareness by drawing the attention of the public to the problem of climate change and may encourage travellers to start making environmentally conscious decisions. It can also be argued that the ban supports the creation of new train routes and the enhancement of the existing ones within the country as with the improvement of rail services, the number of banned flight routes could potentially increase. As France's transport minister Clement Beaune claims, the ban is ‘an essential step and a strong symbol in the policy of reducing greenhouse gas emissions’ (Reid).


Every coin has two sides. However, as a result of introducing the new legislation, France may be seen as a role model for the rest of the countries that might consider a similar approach if the measure proves to be effective.




References


Chun, Alex. “France Just Banned Short-Haul Flights. Why Are so Few Routes Affected?” Smithsonian Magazine, 31 May 2023, www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/france-ban- short-haul-flights-180982268/. Accessed 19 July 2023.

Cobbe, E. “France Has Banned Short-Haul Domestic Flights. How Much It Will Help Combat Climate Change Is up in the Air.” CBS News, 24 May 2023, www.cbsnews.com/news/france-ban-short-haul-domestic-flights-climate-change/.

“France Bans Short-Haul Flights to Cut Carbon Emissions.” BBC News, 23 May 2023, www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-65687665.

Frangoul, Anmar. “France Bans Short-Haul Flights as It Looks to Cut Transport Emissions.” CNBC, 24 May 2023, www.cnbc.com/2023/05/24/france-bans-domestic-short-haul-flights.html.

Limb, L, and S Yanatma. “UK, France, Germany: Which European Country Takes the Most Private Jet Flights?” EuroNews, 19 May 2023, www.euronews.com/green/2023/05/19/at-odds-with-climate-science-the-european-countries-where-people-get-the-most-private-jet-.

Limb, Lottie. “France given Go-Ahead to Abolish Internal Flights.” EuroNews, 2 Dec. 2022, www.euronews.com/green/2022/12/02/is-france-banning-private-jets-everything-we-know-from-a-week-of-green-transport-proposals.

Peters, L. “France Begins Short Haul Flight Ban Where Trains Are Suitable.” Simple Flying, 24 May 2023, simpleflying.com/france-begins-short-haul-flight-ban/. Accessed 19 July 2023.

Reid, Carlton. “France’s Plan to Ban Short-Haul Domestic Flights Wins Approval from European Commission.” Forbes, 3 Dec. 2022, www.forbes.com/sites/carltonreid/2022/12/03/frances-plan-to-ban-short-haul-domestic-flights-wins-approval-from-european-commission/?sh=5af932fc2385. Accessed 19 July 2023.

Ritchie, Hannah. “Cars, Planes, Trains: Where Do CO2 Emissions from Transport Come From?” Our World in Data, Global Change Data Lab, 6 Oct. 2020, ourworldindata.org/co2-emissions-from-transport.

Romain, M, et al. “L’interdiction Des Vols Intérieurs Courts En France, Une Mesure Vidée de Sa Substance.” Le Monde, 24 May 2023, www.lemonde.fr/les-decodeurs/article/2023/05/24/l-interdiction-des-vols-interieurs-courts-en-france-une-mesure-videe-de-sa-substance_6174641_4355770.html. Accessed 19 July 2023.

Walton, J. “France’s Ban on Domestic Flights.” Lonely Planet, 24 May 2023, www.lonelyplanet.com/news/france-short-haul-flight-ban-2023.

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