What’s the deal?

On the 12th April 2021, French MP’s voted to ban domestic flights where an alternative rail operation of less than 2.5 hours is in place. With the (state-owned) high speed rail TGV being the primary alternative to flying, we can consider routes to / from Paris being those most likely to be impacted by this ruling, though exceptions are likely to be made to allow flights to continue to enable connections (primarily via CDG) to take place.

The city-pairs most likely to be affected (with state-owned TGV train times) are:

  • Paris - Lyon (2 hrs 4 mins)
  • Paris - Bordeaux (2 hrs 14 mins)
  • Paris - Nantes and Paris - Rennes (both c 2 hours)

What level of operations are likely to be affected?

French domestic Capacity Share 2019

To look at the maximum likely impact, we need to think about operations pre-Covid. RDC’s Apex SCHEDULES module shows that of the 33m seats operated domestically in France in 2019, just 10% of them were on routes to/from Paris and the affected cities mentioned above, with 52% on other operations to / from Paris and the remaining 38% on routes which don’t touch Paris.

The amount of services which are likely to be affected are already small because train is already an effective competitor - typically, if a rail service offers links of less than 3 hours, rail tends to be the preferred mode of transport.

What about emissions?

At RDC, we’ve been modelling fuel burn and emissions for more than two decades, which we recently brought together into our new CO2 emissions calculator - this allows the emissions to be modelled for any route with any operator on any equipment type and thus we can quickly calculate what the above means in terms of the emissions generated by these operations. Outputs from our calculator can be delivered in raw datasets or by API for integration into other platforms.

There’s a mix of carriers and equipment types operating the affected routes, though Air France (with 98% of seat capacity) and A320 Family Aircraft were most commonly operated in 2019:

2019 Flight Paris Rennes Lyon Nantes Bordeaux Carrier and Equipment type operated on affected city pairs (2019, one-way) Source: RDC Apex

Overall, on a one-way basis, these routes generated c73kt of CO2 in 2019 (146kt return), or on average, 113g of CO2 per passenger km. These figures exclude any RFI and are purely carbon emissions from fuel burn used during the course of the operations.

Emissions from Paris Emissions on Paris - Bordeaux, Rennes, Lyon and Nantes routes in 2019 (Source : RDC)

Let’s put that in context

Globally in 2019, we estimate that passenger operations (i.e. excluding Cargo, Military and other services) generated 807,000kt of CO2, with all operations to / from France generating 36,000kt (or 4.5% of the global total). We can then see what a small contribution these affected routes to / from Paris represent in this context -= just 0.018% of global emissions from passenger operations in 2019:

2019 France emissions by different market 2019 emissions by different market (Source: RDC)

In further context setting, France’s total emissions were estimated as 323mt (Source: Our World in Data) so the 146kt (or 0.045% of the country’s total).

Will it have any impact at all?

Until the full details of the affected routes and how the law will be implemented are announced, there will be some adjustments to the above analysis. However, there are several key points which should be considered:

  1. Not all of these operations will cease entirely - if flights are allowed to continue to facilitate connections at CDG, maybe all the ORY flights will go and maybe half the CDG services, which would reduce the amount of emissions saved to just 100kt per annum
  2. This ruling is not going to force the airlines to retire these aircraft - the airlines will either a) use them to increase capacity on other domestic or international routes or b) sell them to another carrier to be used elsewhere in the world - thus emissions will continue to be created
  3. These routes would have been captured under the EU-ETS - if the equipment are sold to carriers outside the EU, then potentially future emissions generated by these aircraft could be excluded from a scheme trying to address aviation’s contribution to climate change

So all in all, the decision will have minimal impact on global aviation emissions, and potentially force emissions to be generated outside of a scheme aimed at trying to address aviation’s contribution to climate change.

If you need a source of global CO2 emissions data, get in touch to see how RDC can help.

Banner image by Artur Tumasjan on Unsplash


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