France’s ban on short flights should be a wake-up call for Britain | Leo Murray
Instead of stopping unnecessary air travel, the UK is considering measures that would make it cheaper
This week the French national assembly voted to ban domestic flights on routes that could be travelled via train in under two and a half hours. The new rule, which is the result of a French citizens’ climate convention established by Emmanuel Macron in response to the gilets jaunes (yellow vests) movement, will capture 12% of French domestic flights. Though it’s more moderate than the convention’s initial proposal, which sought to ban all domestic flights on routes with rail alternatives of less than four hours, this is the first time any major economy has prohibited domestic air travel for environmental reasons. It’s also far more drastic than anything the UK has done to curb flight emissions.
The huge blow the pandemic has dealt to the aviation industry could be an opportune moment to rethink the future of flights. Before Covid, air travellers rated around half of all flights as unnecessary. Apart from a few exceptions in particularly remote regions, domestic flights in small countries must be among the least necessary of all. Just over half a million flights were taken every year between London and Manchester before the pandemic, a journey that takes around two hours by train. Because so much of the pollution from any given flight takes place during take-off and landing cycles, the emissions produced per kilometre for each passenger on a domestic route are 70% higher than long haul flights – and six times higher than if the same journey was made by rail.