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The domestic flights in Spain that could be cancelled to reduce emissions

The Local Spain
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The domestic flights in Spain that could be cancelled to reduce emissions
Spain could ban short-haul domestic flights, which can be done in under 4 hours by train. Photo: PAU BARRENA / AFP

Eleven different short-haul flight routes across Spain could be cancelled and replaced by train journeys of less than four hours, in order to help fight climate change.

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According to a new study by the eco confederation Ecologistas en Acción, around 35 percent of domestic flights in Spain - most of them from or to Madrid - could be cancelled, replacing them with high-speed trains and reducing emissions by around 10 percent.

The environmental organisation assures that these changes would not in fact affect total travel times, since all "end-to-end" journeys would continue to be shorter by rail than by air.

Routes that already have high-speed rail networks, more than four trains per day and can be reached in under four hours are between Madrid and Alicante, Barcelona, Málaga, Seville and Valencia.

Other routes that can be reached in less than four hours include Madrid-Santiago de Compostela, Madrid-Pamplona and Barcelona-Valencia.

Spain's acting left-wing coalition government has been considering the proposal of cancelling short-haul flights since 2021, as part of its Spain 2050 climate action plan.

According to government calculations, eliminating short-haul flights would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to two million tonnes.

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

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

Ecologistas en Acción argues that other routes could also be replaced by train journeys if their daily frequencies were expanded.

These include those that connect Madrid with La Coruña, Granada and Logroño. For the first two, it is expected that train operations will increase once the new high-speed network is completed and new Renfe trains come into service.

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The latest data available from 2019 shows that 5.92 million passengers used these 11 flight routes, which is equivalent to almost 35 percent of passengers who took domestic flights in Spain. 

They represented around 50,000 operations at Spanish airports - 13.1 percent of the total - and were responsible for almost 10 percent of the emissions produced by domestic aviation, releasing up to 300,000 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, according to the ecologists’ report.

"The replacement of short flights with train journeys is technically and legally viable, both due to existing railway alternatives and existing precedents in the European Union. Furthermore, it is necessary, since Spain is one of the countries where domestic flights have grown the most in recent years, with an enormous impact in terms of emissions that is totally incompatible with the objectives we have set," explained Pablo Muñoz, aviation coordinator of Ecologistas en Acción.

For Spain's Ministry of Transport, 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”.

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Between 2013 and 2019, domestic air operations in Spain increased by 27 percent, a figure much higher than that of its European neighbours such as Germany, France and the UK, which maintained or reduced them by up to 8 percent.

One of the most important routes that could be cancelled is the one between Madrid and Barcelona, which is responsible for more than half of the operations with around 15,000 per year, generating about 168,000 tons of CO2.

The report specifically states that the total travel time by train between the two will always be less than what is needed to cover the same journey by plane.

Back in May 2023, the French government officially banned domestic flights for journeys possible in less than two-and-a-half hours by train.

Other EU countries that have tried to decrease short-haul air travel are Germany, which in 2020, increased taxes on domestic and intra-European flights by 75 percent, and Belgium which introduced a €10 tax on short flights of less than 500km from Brussels Airport.

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. 

READ ALSO: The parts of Spain with the worst transport links

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