May 25, 2023 - Energy & Environment

Why the U.S. likely won’t follow France’s short-haul flight ban

Air France planes

Air France planes arrive at Roissy-Charles-de-Gaulle airport, near Paris. Photo: Julien De Rosa/AFP via Getty Images

While France made waves this week by officially banning some short-haul domestic flights, a similar policy is unlikely to take hold in the U.S. anytime soon.

Driving the news: The French government touted the enactment of the legislation, which bans flights between destinations that can be reached by train in less than two-and-a-half hours, as a first-of-its-kind achievement.

  • When it comes to attaining the same feat in the U.S., Dan Rutherford, program director at the International Council on Clean Transportation, told the Washington Post that replacing flights of under 500 miles with high-speed rail could reduce emissions.

But, but, but: The U.S. would face significant hurdles in trying to make this a reality.

  • Short-haul flights made up about half of the U.S. domestic market in 2019, according to the ICCT, which noted that domestic "short train routes are relatively rare because they are uncompetitive with cars."
  • While the U.S. has the most extensive rail network in the world, most of this is dedicated to freight rail, with passenger rail systems lagging behind those of the rest of the world.
  • The U.S. also lacks the high-speed rail systems that make train travel so convenient elsewhere, and plans to expand the country’s high-speed rail have failed.

Short-haul flights are also a source of great profit for airlines.

  • Flights between Honolulu and Maui (about 100 miles), Atlanta and Orlando (402 miles), and Las Vegas and Los Angeles (225 miles) represent some of the U.S.' busiest domestic flight routes, according to data from OAG Aviation.

Reality check: France's ban is less revolutionary than it appears.

  • Filled with exceptions for France's busiest airport and connecting flights, in practice, the legislation will result in cuts to only three travel routes, the New York Times reported.
  • The three cut routes — between the Paris-Orly airport and the cities of Bordeaux, Nantes and Lyon — account for only 5,000 flights per year, according to Le Monde.
  • The closure of these routes will only reduce annual air transport emissions by 55,000 tons of CO2, French authorities have disclosed.
  • The aviation industry emits roughly 1 billion tons of CO2 annually.

Our thought bubble, from Axios' Ben Geman: Beyond the logistical challenges, there's little political appetite in the U.S. for these kinds of restrictions on consumer behavior and choices.

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