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Will Spain ban short-haul domestic flights like France has?

Esme Fox
Esme Fox - [email protected]
Will Spain ban short-haul domestic flights like France has?
Will Spain ban short domestic flights? Photo: Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

At the end of May, France formalised a ban on domestic flights for journeys possible in less than two-and-a-half hours by train, but will the same happen in Spain?

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In practice, it the plan to ban short domestic flights in France was already largely in effect, but on May 23rd, it was published in a government decree.

The change means that flights between Paris and regional hubs such as Nantes, Lyon and Bordeaux, will officially be banned, but flights that have onward connections will be unaffected.

READ ALSO: Why are flights to and from Spain so expensive this summer?

Could Spain pass similar legislation and ban short domestic flights?

According to research carried out by scientists at the University of Manchester in the UK, short-haul flights are the main cause of aviation emissions in Europe.  

Eliminating short-haul European flights (less than 500 kilometres) would drastically reduce aviation emissions, which account for six percent of total greenhouse gases. It would be a "good measure" in the fight against climate change, according to the researchers.

Because of the damage to the environment and the substantial emissions from short-haul flights, the Spanish government actually proposed a very similar plan in 2021, banning flights with rail alternatives that would take less than two and a half hours.

READ ALSO - Train travel from Spain to France: Everything you need to know

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez's 2050 Agenda, also included this plan. According to government calculations, eliminating short-haul flights would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to two million tons.

"It is recommended that flights be prohibited on those routes that can be made by train in less than 2.5 hours," the plan stated.  

This would directly affect the routes between Madrid and Barcelona, operated by airlines such as Iberia, Air Europa or Vueling. It would also affect flights between Madrid and the hubs of Valencia, Alicante, Seville and Málaga.  

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In fact, experts have calculated that prohibiting short domestic flights in Spain would make one in five flight routes disappear.  

Nothing, however, has been put in place for the immediate future. When questioned about this, the Ministry of Transport said that the transfer of passengers from the air sector to the rail sector had already taken place "in a natural way" and that the high-speed network covers "a large part of the main domestic links”.

READ ALSO: The Spanish cities that will be most affected by rising sea levels

Potential problems 

But, while France has an extensive network of high-speed rail, some parts of Spain are lacking in this department, including Castilla y León, Castilla-La Mancha and Extremadura.  

In these regions, trains run infrequently on underused tracks, sometimes running at 30 kilometres per hour and experience constant breakdowns.

While there has been a lot of investment and more high-speed rail operators running between some of Spain’s major cities, with the introduction of Iryo, Avlo and Ouigo, in so-called empty Spain, there has been a lack of investment that has caused great political disputes.  

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Reactions 

The government proposal sparked an angry protest from the Airlines Association (ALA).

Faced with the possibility of a ban or the introduction of a fee for travellers on domestic flights, the ALA warned about the "devastating" impact that any of these measures would have on the airline sector, as well as on tourism and, consequently, on employment and the country's economy.

Banning flights of less than 500 kilometres or less than two and a half hours would mean stopping flights from almost any point on the peninsula to Madrid, they argued.  

According to the ALA, travellers would have to stop flying to other continents through Madrid, and would have to go to other European cities like Paris, London, Frankfurt or Rome.

The result would be the same amount of CO2 emissions, but Madrid would be seriously affected.

However, in France, the measure does not affect onward connecting flights, like Nantes via Paris to Stockholm, so the same could be applied to Spain.  

With climate change increasingly affecting Spain including above-average temperatures, droughts, wildfires and flash flooding, the Spanish government could very well decide to bring the domestic flight ban proposal to the forefront of discussions once again.

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