France Bans Short-Haul Flights: Could the U.S Ever Do That?

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trainA historic decree announced by the French government prohibits short-haul flights by domestic airlines on routes that can be completed by train in less than 2.5 hours. This means that attendees will need to take a train and not a plane in order to go from Paris’s Orly airport to Nantes, Bordeaux, or Lyon.

However, the mandate exempts short-haul flights from the far busier Charles De Gaulle International Airport from the ban. It also includes caveats regarding the number of daily trains required to replace air travel and stipulates that rail connections facilitate “more than eight hours of on-site presence during the day.”

There is a point where such a decision could have a major impact on emissions in the U.S. as well, Dan Rutherford, program director at the International Council on Clean Transportation, told the Washington Post. “For trips of less than 500 miles, replacing a flight with high-speed rail could put a dent in air travel,” Rutherford said. “Flights of less than 500 miles make up one-quarter of the United States’ domestic air traffic.” The University of Pennsylvania’s Kleinman Center for Energy Policy estimates that the per-person emission savings for travel by rail rather than air can be 37 percent or higher.

However, it’s unlikely that this type of move would be possible in the U.S. for a variety of reason. For one, the Acela is only about half as fast as high-speed rail in other countries. The Environmental Protection Agency has not yet gone so far as to even issue regulations on aircraft emissions, which would be a first step. And then there’s the current climate in Congress.

Not so in France, where reducing greenhouse gas is at the forefront. “Achieving carbon neutrality means strongly stepping up our action in terms of decarbonizing transport, which still accounts for 30 percent of emissions,” said Clement Beaune, France’s minister of transport, in a press statement. “As we fight relentlessly to decarbonize our lifestyles, how can we justify the use of the plane between the big cities which benefit from regular, fast and efficient connections by train?”

Beaune said the decree “is an essential step and a strong symbol in the policy of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This measure is a world first which is fully in line with the [French] Government’s policy of encouraging the use of modes of transport that emit less greenhouse gases.”

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