Short flights are no more in France. A new climate-focused bill is on the path to becoming finalized. Among the new policies is a prohibition on air service for domestic routes that can be served by train in less than 2.5 hours.
First tipped as part of a climate change bill and aviation industry bailout effort last May, lawmakers finalized the legislation over the weekend and began the voting process enshrine it as law. Two more votes are required before it is enacted, but those are expected to pass in the coming days.
And, somewhat unsurprisingly, it leaves activists on all sides unsatisfied.
Limited markets impacted
Of the more than 100 routes operating in France prior to the pandemic only a handful are impacted by the new rule according to analysis performed in June 2020 by Réseau Action Climat France. The map shows five markets, though some are duplicated at Orly and Charles de Gaulle airports.
Of these markets only one, Paris to Bordeaux, appears in the top five of emissions generators according to the analysis.
And traveling on those routes by plane comes with a 14-40x multiplier on emissions according to the report.
Limited environmental benefit
The routes represent a significant portion of the overall emissions generated by domestic flying. The analysis suggests that transitioning flights under 2.5 hours to trains would reduce aviation-related emissions for Metropolitan France by 11.2% overall. That number drops by about half if flights continued from CDG, keeping the hub connections by air rather than a multi-modal option.
Environmental activists pushed for the cutoff to be 4 hours by high-speed rail rather than the 2.5 hours in the law.
Further improvements to efficiency – or cuts in service – will be needed for the country to hit the target of a 40% reduction in 2030 from 1990 levels.
Aviation industry impact
Air France and its LCC arm Transavia are not particularly pleased by the limits on their operations. But the carrier cannot complain about the financial impact of the limits too much. The French government pumped billions of euros into its flag carrier to support the company during the pandemic. This includes a 4 billion euro commitment last week, just before the vote.
One billion of that comes as a new capital infusion. The other three billion is conversion of last year’s loan to Super-Subordinated Notes. This improves the company’s equity while not impacting cash on hand. It also pushes out the associated debt repayment needs, providing increased flexibility for the carrier.
IATA similarly is on record opposing such rules, with Regional Vice President for Europe Rafael Schvartzman previously suggesting that ensuring a choice of options delivers the best solution for passengers. He described the focus on aviation as “unfair” and “very biased” while claiming it “reduces the value of connectivity across Europe.”
Pushing passengers elsewhere
From a passenger perspective the impact is somewhat less clear.
A connection at either Pairs airport between flights and the rail network is less than ideal. And connections to Bordeaux are pretty awful; requiring multiple transfers within Pairs to get to the correct station for the onward travel west. Even with the relatively frequent TGV/Ouigo departures the overall travel experience would not be great.
Connecting passengers are exempt from the rule, meaning Air France could still operate the route carrying only passengers connecting onward, but it is unclear that demand is sufficient to justify keeping the services.
Travelers to Bordeaux from outside France will almost certainly choose an alternate air-only connection via alternate hubs rather rather than the onerous transition at Orly or Charles de Gaulle airports, should the flights fully disappear. This shifts emissions rather than reducing them.
For those just moving between the French cities, however, the rail option does come with some benefits. Emissions are lower and trains run far more frequently today; that was less the case pre-pandemic. How fares adjust with an enforced monopoly will be worth watching as well.
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