France has banned short-haul domestic flights to get tougher on emissions

In a sweeping effort to cut transport emissions, France formally banned short-distance domestic flights where train travel—a greener alternative—is possible. The ban, which took effect on May 23, is part of an environmental effort that’s been in the works for two years.

In 2021, French lawmakers voted to prohibit domestic flights between cities where passengers can travel by train in two-and-a-half hours or less. But that law required European Union approval before it could go into effect.

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The European Commission gave the flight ban the green light in December 2022, but narrowed its scope to place less of a burden on consumers. The commission decided that the ban should only apply to flight routes where there are several daily rail options for would-be passengers.

That means the flight ban—while drastic—only affects three flight routes as opposed to the eight that would have been eliminated by the original French law.

France’s disappearing flight routes

So, which flights are being eliminated?

Airlines can no longer offer flights between Paris-Orly Airport and Bordeaux, Nantes, and Lyon. Air France, the primary carrier in France, eliminated these flight paths in 2020 as part of a pandemic relief package, but the law will prevent other airlines from adding short-haul service between the four airports.

In the future, the flight ban could also apply to more routes, including those from Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, if other rail options are added.

Notably, the law still permits flights from Paris to Marseille in the country’s south.

A “mostly symbolic” ban

France isn’t the only country to take a tougher stance on domestic flights. As part of a 2020 pandemic-era bailout for the national carrier Austrian Airlines, the airline agreed to cut all routes where passengers could travel by train in three hours or less. In reality, that only eliminated one flight route: Vienna to Salzburg.

Laurent Donceel of the industry group Airlines for Europe told the AFP that the French flight ban is mostly “symbolic” and said it will only have “minimal effects” on carbon emissions.

Even if they are mostly symbolic, these bans point to a larger issue: Aviation accounts for more than 2% of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, according to the International Energy Association.

But while Europe chips away at wasteful commercial flights, the continent is seeing a massive rise in carbon emissions from another repeat offender: private jets.

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