Brussels will give the green light to the abolition of short domestic flights in France

The European Commission will validate the French measure to abolish domestic flights in the event of an alternative train of less than 2h30, with some adjustments, we learned Thursday from a source familiar with the matter.

This measure, an emblematic provision of the loi climate, should be limited to three years and also apply to connecting flights, according to this source. An official announcement could come Friday.

In December 2021, the European executive announced that it would carry out an “in-depth analysis” of this project, contested by the Union of French airports (UAF) jointly with the European branch of the International Council of Airports (ACI Europe). Discussions have taken place between the Commission and the French government to ensure that the project complies with European legislation.

Derogations removed

The measure, which has the effect of prohibiting connections between Paris (Orly) and Nantes, Lyon or Bordeaux, provided for exceptions for connecting journeys. But these derogations were removed, the Commission judging that they introduced a distortion of competition between airlines.

The European regulation on air services provides (article 20) that a Member State may, “where there are serious problems in terms of the environment (…) limit or refuse the exercise of traffic rights, in particular when other modes of transport provide a satisfactory service”.

However, it specifies that these measures must be “non-discriminatory”, not cause “distortion of competition between air carriers”, not be “more restrictive than necessary” and must have “a limited period of validity, not exceeding three years, after which they are re-examined”. This article had never before been invoked by a Member State.

“Sustainable mobility strategy”

The Commission European Union itself promotes a “sustainable mobility strategy”, as part of its climate ambitions, aimed at achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. The ban on short air links in France will therefore be reviewed after three years, with intermediate reviews every six months, to check that it is still justified.

Above all, the French project confirms what already exists, since the government has forced Air France to give up the connections concerned in return for financial support in May 2020, to overcome the health crisis. It also prohibits competitors from stepping into the breach.

Disputed deletions

The main French association of airports, the UAF, as well as the Scara (Union of autonomous airlines) had, as early as the parliamentary debates, contested the abolition of these lines, in particular Orly-Bordeaux which transported, before the health crisis, more than 560,000 travelers per year.

In total, Orly-Nantes, Orly-Lyon and Orly-Bordeaux represented in 2019 some 4% of French domestic air travel excluding DOM-TOM and Corseor 1.1 million passengers, according to the specialized firm Archery Consulting.

Bordeaux-Mérignac airport had estimated that the end of the link with Orly would cause him to lose 16% of turnover, while local elected officials had then denounced a “new blow” to the economy of the region.

Cursor too shy?

But environmental NGOs had deemed this slider placed at 2:30 a.m. too timid. Greenpeacein October 2021, pointed out that a third of the busiest flights in the European Union had an alternative by train of less than six hours, and that banning them would save 3.5 million tonnes of CO2.

The global aviation sector emitted 900 million tonnes of CO2 in 2019 (i.e. 2.5% of total emissions), before the health crisis which divided traffic by three in 2020.

Since then, attendance has picked up and should lead to a return to pre-pandemic activity in 2024, according to projections by the International Air Transport Association (Iata), which brings together the majority of companies in the world.

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