France’s Transport Minister says he wants to open the debate on the environmental and social cost of flights.
France will seek support from other EU nations for a minimum price on flights in an effort to cut the aviation sector’s carbon emissions.
The country is aiming to “open the debate on the fair social and environmental price of a flight ticket,” according to Transport Minister Clément Beaune.
“I think it’s a discussion we have to have at EU level.”
Earlier this year, Beaune first proposed the idea of getting rid of super-cheap fares.
He said that he wants to “fight against social and environmental dumping” and that “€10 plane tickets aren’t possible anymore”, referring to low-cost airline fares.
Beaune added that a mega-low ticket price “doesn’t reflect the price for the planet.”
But are more expensive flights the solution to reducing aviation’s carbon footprint?
Frequent flyers are disproportionately responsible for emissions
“Anything that makes airlines pay a fair share of the environmental cost that they create is a good thing”, says Jon Worth, travel expert and founder of Trains for Europe campaign.
“But we should be dealing with frequent flyers and this does not deal with them. It might reduce nice city weekends for some people but it’s not going to stop or reduce this regular flying elite.”
In France, 2 per cent of people take half of all flights, according to research published by the climate campaign group Possible. 15 per cent of Brits take 70 per cent of flights and 8 per cent of the Dutch take 42 per cent.
Overall, 37 per cent of Europeans have never travelled outside their own country, according to a 2014 European survey. Though this statistic doesn’t directly relate to air travel, it does give an idea of how many Europeans fly.
European train tickets are twice as expensive as flights
On average, European train tickets are twice as expensive as flights, according to a Greenpeace report from July.
Only 12 train lines were found to be fast, reliable and cheaper than flights, over the 112 most important routes analysed by Greenpeace.
In May this year, France brought in a ban on some domestic flight routes. Flights that could be replaced by train journeys taking less than 2.5 hours were affected.
But due to caveats, such as trains not running late enough at night, the ban only applies to three routes – Paris Orly to Bordeaux, Lyon and Nantes.
Climate activists and organisations criticised the French government saying the ban doesn’t go far enough to make a dent in aviation‘s carbon emissions.
Likewise with Beaune’s idea, trains not being up to scratch leads travellers to opt for flights.
“If you want to fly from Paris to Barcelona or from Paris to Frankfurt, the train capacity on such routes is too low”, says Jon Worth.
“These types of measures are sticks, but we lack carrots, incentives to make people change their behaviour”, regrets Jon Worth.
Jon Worth also points out that Beaune is inaccurate in saying you can take a €10 flight. Minimum rates for a single ticket one-way including all taxes usually hover around €40 and €50.
Can Europe encourage more people to ditch cheap flights?
In the UK, a “frequent flying levy” has been debated for years. Tax rates would increase based on how many flights you take in a year.
“The first flight’s tax is very low and it goes up with each flight”, explains Jon Worth.
But this is still a “stick” measure.
In Germany, they have been looking at ways to cut short domestic routes.
“If you travel from Stuttgart to Singapore but the only direct flight leaves from Frankfurt, Germany will put that traveller on a train linking Stuttgart to Frankfurt”, says Worth.
The problem is that some countries like France still lack a connected up system. In France, you can only connect TGV INOUI high-speed trains to Air France flights.
“In Germany, you can take a Deutsche Bahn train to an EasyJet flight”, says Worth.
Will EU countries support Beaune’s proposal?
Beaune is seeking support from other EU countries to introduce the minimum price for flights but France could struggle to win over other nations.
“It’s a very typical French move, a very Macron move. Tactically speaking, it’s not the best way”, Worth says.
“Germany won’t be very keen because of its liberal transport minister, Spain will maybe be more interested, the Netherlands too, apart from them, it’s hard to say.”
It is unlikely to appeal to island nations that rely on air transport or regions whose tourism industry benefits heavily from low-cost flights either.
Ryanair’s Chief Executive has also been very hostile to similar measures comparing such moves as “North Korea-like rate control” when Austria announced in June 2020 it wanted to prohibit airfares from being lower than the actual taxes and charges, i.e. an average of €40 per flight in this country.
Jon Worth fears that the French Transport Minister is seeking publicity rather than real change.
“The international publicity of France’s short flight ban was huge. It was useless! But it gave Macron good international publicity, I am scared Beaune is doing the same thing. That the actual implementation will have the same impact.”