Plan to tackle climate crisis involves using trains where available
French lawmakers have voted to remove domestic airline routes if the trip can otherwise be completed by train in under two and a half hours.
The bill will be up in front of the Senate before becoming law amid calls for swift and decisive action regarding climate change.
The country will ban flights of two and a half hours or less
— Air France-KLM Group (@AirFranceKLM) March 25, 2021
The initial plan was to ban all flights where the journey could be made in four hours or less, effectively removing almost all internal flights, but this was reduced to two and a half hours after protests from certain regions and, most notably, from Air France-KLM which, like other airlines, has been badly affected by the Covid crisis.
With general agreement on action being taken, the time and distance measures proved to be the main point of contention, with Francois Pupponi, a member of the French National Assembly, one of the people to lobby for the two and a half hour limit.
“The environmental choice must take precedence, but let’s not abandon the social and economic choices around industry and around airports — the two are complementary,” he said.
Plane emits 77 times more CO2 per passenger than train
On the opposing side, French consumer group UFC-Que Choisir called for the four-hour rule to be maintained, citing the fact that on four-hour routes “on average, the plane emits 77 times more CO2 per passenger than the train on these routes, even though the train is cheaper and the time lost is limited to 40 minutes.”
Mathilde Panot, of the hard left La France Insoumise, said that by reducing the time limit, the measure had been “emptied”. The reason for the reduction was explained by Transport Minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari, who told MPs that “we have chosen two and a half hours because four hours risks isolating landlocked territories including the greater Massif Central, which would be iniquitous.”
The measures have also opened up the French government to claims of hypocrisy, after it bailed out Air France-KLM with a loan to the tune of €7 billion last year, although one of the conditions of the loan was that it would drop certain domestic routes. Industry Minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher insisted that it was possible to balance both the fight against climate change and supporting struggling businesses, stating that “we must support our companies and not let them fall by the wayside.”
One of the main talking points was the call for safeguards to ensure that SNCF, the French National Rail company, did not take the opportunity to either raise prices or reduce the quality of its service.
Routes from Paris to Nantes, Bordeaux, and Lyon will be most impacted
The main routes impacted will be those from Paris to Nantes, Bordeaux and Lyon, with longer routes to cities such as Marseille and Toulouse coming in over the 150-minute limit.
In terms of passenger numbers, the main airport affected will be Paris Orly, at which most national short-haul flights arrive or depart. Connecting flights through Paris Charles de Gaulle/Roissy airport will not be affected.
The vote will be of particular interest to Kiwi.com customers as they can buy tickets for ground transport as easily as flight tickets simply by performing a normal search. The Kiwi.com database covers all routes where flights will be replaced by trains, as well as offering different options on routes across the world. This means that if you prefer taking the train to flying — regardless of national rules — that choice is yours.
The Netherlands and Austria to address climate crisis with own measures
Closely following developments will be a number of countries, including the Netherlands and Austria, both of whom have attempted to address the climate crisis with their own measures.
Austria’s government implemented a tax of €30 on all flights of less than 217 miles (350 km) last June, and has banned domestic flights that could be done in under three hours by train. Indeed, Austrian Airlines made the move itself to replace its popular Vienna–Salzburg route with additional trains after receiving government funding dependent on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The Netherlands has been trying for even longer to introduce its own regulations, having been attempting to ban short-haul flights since 2013. As recently as 2019, Dutch MPs voted to ban flights from Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport to Zaventem airport in Brussels, a distance of only 93 miles (150 km). This, however, was seen as breaking European commission regulations on freedom of movement, and was scrapped.
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