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EXPLAINED: How does France’s domestic flight ban really work?

France's decision to ban short-haul domestic flights for environmental reasons was a world first that made headlines around the globe - but how many flights will the new rule actually ban?

EXPLAINED: How does France's domestic flight ban really work?
Photo by Charly TRIBALLEAU / AFP

The French government announced its domestic flight ban back in 2021, but it has been back in the news after the European Commission ruled in France’s favour following a challenge by airport associations.

This clears the way for other European countries to bring in similar rules, as part of climate-based efforts to limit flights and persuade travellers to take green alternatives.

But the French plan sounds more dramatic than it actually is. Some French commentators used the phrase La montagne qui accouche d’une souris (the mountain that gave birth to a mouse) to describe a policy of which much was expected but actually has quite small effects.

What does the new rule say?

The new policy doesn’t ban all domestic flights – only those between destinations that can be reached by train in less than two-and-a-half hours.

So therefore routes like Paris-Nice (six hours by train) or Paris-Marseille (three hours by train) can continue.

It also only affects flights within France – so a flight from Paris to Geneva (three-and-a-quarter hours by train) can continue, even if the train limit changes.

There’s an extra detail too – there must be regular train services between the destinations in question, and they must run throughout the day (including early morning and evening) in order to make them a viable travel alternative.

So how many flights does this ban actually affect?

At present, just three.

  • Paris (Orly) – Bordeaux
  • Paris (Orly) – Nantes
  • Paris (Orly) – Lyon

It is, however, still possible to fly to these three cities from Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport, and that is because of geographical location of the two airports and timetabling quirks it takes (fractionally) longer than two-and-a-half hours to travel by train from Paris Charles de Gaulle to Bordeaux, Nantes and Lyon.

You can also fly from Charles de Gaulle airport to Rennes and Lyon, because the frequency of train services is not judged to be good enough, even though you can get from Paris to Lyon in two hours or to Rennes in an hour-and-a half.

How much difference will this make to France’s carbon footprint?

Research carried out at an EU level suggests that it won’t make a huge difference, with short-haul (less than 500km) flights accounting for just six percent of airplane fuel used within the Bloc.

Long haul-flights (over 4,000km) account for just six percent of flights taken, but 47 percent of fuel burned.

What about private planes?

France’s transport minister Clément Beaune made more headlines when he talked about banning private jet flights.

However, this is not part of the current policy and Beaune then added that he wanted to do this on an EU level. Discussions on some sort of restriction for private jet flights are currently ongoing, but are a long way away from producing any sort of concrete proposal.

This sounds really underwhelming, what’s the point?

Yeah, as things stand it’s not the most effective policy.

But it’s a first step, and the European Commission’s ruling in France’s favour paves the way for more of this type of thing – essentially the Commission decided that although the measure is on the face of it anti-competitive for airlines and airports, member states do have the right to take this type of action when faced with a major threat such as the climate crisis.

This means that we could see more of this type of legislation around the EU, several other EU countries such as Austria have already imposed restrictions on short-haul flights from their state airlines, while others are considering similar moves. 

France could also extend the measures – at present some of the routes mentioned above are ‘on probation’ and could be scrapped if, for example, Paris to Lyon gets a more regular train service.

It’s also possible that the two-and-a-half hour limit could be expanded in subsequent legislation – the original proposal was for a six-hour limit, which would see an almost total domestic flight ban put in place.

Two-and-a-half hours was the compromise eventually reached in order to get the bill through parliament, but subsequent governments could decide to extend this. 

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CLIMATE CRISIS

Natural disaster costs hit 23-year high in France

Natural disasters cost French insurers €10 billion last year, a two-decade high as such events become more frequent and intense, the head of the sector's federation said on Thursday.

Natural disaster costs hit 23-year high in France

“It was an annus horribilis,” France Assureurs president Florence Lustman told Europe 1 radio, citing the hailstorms, floods and droughts that hit the country last year.

Natural disasters cost the industry €3.5 billion on average per year between 2017-2021.

The 2022 figure is the highest since storms pummelled France in 1999.

The insurance federation said the bill from natural disasters will exceed €140 billion over the next 30 years, double the amount for the previous three decades.

Reinsurance giant Swiss Re said in December that natural and man-made catastrophes caused $268 billion of economic losses worldwide in 2022.

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