No more short domestic flights, instead switch to trains - that appears to be France's new climate plan. Flights are to be banned for all routes that can be covered in two and a half hours or less by train. The German Green Party applauds the move. But there is no protest from the local airline industry either. "The air transport industry sees the potential here to shift up to a fifth of domestic German air traffic to rail," clams an industry concept paper for the post-pandemic period, which was accessed by F.A.Z.
Domestic German flights almost only exist where the train takes longer. In France, the TGV races from Paris to Bordeaux in two hours and four minutes; in Germany, the inner-Bavarian journey by ICE and S-Bahn from Nuremberg to Munich Airport takes about the same amount of time. The parallel flight is hardly used by Munich passengers, but mainly by passengers transferring to long-distance flights.
Short routes make little profit
Short rail travel times destroy flight advantages. But it's not just climate protection why the Lufthansa Group would like to get rid of many a domestic flight. Chief executive Carsten Spohr has calculated that he earns nothing on very short routes. But he still lets them take off - because he's worried about losing long-distance travelers to foreign airlines that sell flights that change planes in Paris, London or Istanbul. If you take the train to Munich first, you have to haul suitcases yourself. If the train arrives too late, the flight may be cancelled.
A new pattern runs through the industry's 15-point catalog. Instead of cautioning that measures always cost money, it warns against burdens imposed by ideas for Germany to go it alone. "Some proposals in the public debate are unsuitable for achieving climate targets," says von Randow. Competition-distorting rules must be avoided, he adds. "Otherwise, emissions will merely be shifted, not prevented." A kerosene tax would apply to flights from Hamburg to Hong Kong with a change in Frankfurt for the entire route. On a foreign route with a changeover in Istanbul, the tax would be due - if at all - only for fuel up to Istanbul.
The new course includes no longer opposing the air traffic tax, which before Corona brought in a billion euros a year. If the money is used to "finance the system change to alternative fuels," it will be transformed from a "purely fiscal instrument into a climate protection instrument. In other words, Germany doesn't have to wait until the whole world agrees on more rules for flights. "There are two competition-neutral ways to ramp up alternative fuels: an international one, which has the greatest climate protection effect but may take longer, and a national or European solo effort, which then has to compensate for additional competition-distorting burdens on local companies," says von Randow.
A mandatory blending of low-emission fuels would also become acceptable if additional costs were offset, for example by revenue from the air traffic tax. "That would in effect be user financing for climate protection. The costs of CO2 reduction would then be paid by the airlines and, if ticket prices rise as a result, also by passengers." Several European airline associations had recently affirmed their intention to achieve CO2-neutral operations by 2050. The Transport & Enviroment organization criticized them for relying too heavily on jet manufacturers to bring new engines to market by then. The German train-flight link ipromises faster progress.
Image by Bilal EL-Daou