France plans to permanently ban short-haul flights

The French government bailed out its airline industry to the tune of €7 billion ($7.9 billion) after the impacts of Covid-19, on the condition that it becomes more environmental conscious. This week, it demanded in return, that all airlines operating in France also ‘go green’ and dramatically reduce the number of short-haul flights if there is a rail or bus alternative. French Environment Minister Elisabeth Borne said “we have asked Air France to accelerate its environmental transition” replacing up to 40% of flights where there is a rail link of under 2 or 2.5 hours, according to Forbes.

The minister’s comments highlight the potential ripple effects of environmental strings attached to the bailout of Air France-KLM, which could reshape domestic air travel. The policies would put France in the same camp as Austria, which has also placed constraints on short-haul air travel as part of a state-funding plan for the local unit of Deutsche Lufthansa AG. Ryanair plans to operate six French domestic routes in the summer of 2020, but none will be impacted by the conditions set out in this decree, Bloomberg reported.

EasyJet is the main low-cost competitor to Air France in the country, with 37 domestic routes.  Yet, its two most-used routes – Paris-Toulouse and Paris-Nice – take more than four hours and almost six hours respectively, by train. This means they do not come under the government’s two and a half hour limit. But while the rules appear stringent, in practice they are unlikely to make much difference to air travel in France. according to newspaper Le Figaro, few companies operate flights along routes for which a TGV train journey of less than two and half hours exists – including Air France and its short-haul subsidiary, Hop!. If and when such TGV routes open, the equivalent air route usually ceases soon after, as people opt to take the train naturally, The Connexion France wrote.

Citing figures from the Climate Action Network, Greenpeace France has said the measures aren’t ambitious enough because they would cut carbon emissions by just 6.6%. Borne said she favors following Austria, which has proposed imposing rules on plane-ticket prices, calling 1-euro and even 15-euro tickets “shocking” and saying she backs “in principle” minimum prices. Austria will impose an additional ticket fee of 30 euros for short-haul flights below 350 kilometers and has said prices can’t be below taxes and fees, with a minimum price of about 40 euros, according to Bloomberg.

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