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Spain has proposed a ban on short-haul flights - but environmental groups aren’t happy

Spain wants to ban short-haul flights when there’s a train alternative.
Spain wants to ban short-haul flights when there’s a train alternative. Copyright Canva
Copyright Canva
By Angela Symons
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Environmental groups have slammed the proposal as ‘purely symbolic’.

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Spain wants to ban short-haul flights when there is an alternative by train that takes less than 2.5 hours.

The proposal comes from Spain's ruling Socialist Party (PSOE) and the far-left Sumar party, who reached an agreement to form a new progressive coalition government last month.

The measure is intended to curb emissions from quick domestic flights and encourage more sustainable travel, as part of Spain’s 2050 climate action plan.

It could affect flights from cities like Alicante, Barcelona, Seville and Valencia to Madrid. However, flights using the capital city to connect to international routes would not be included in the ban.

France introduced a similar measure earlier this year but environmentalists have questioned how effective it is at reducing flying.

Is Spain going to introduce a short-haul flight ban?

It is yet to be seen if the ban will come into force. The coalition between PSOE and Sumar is not enough to build a majority, therefore support is still needed from smaller regional parties, including Catalan independentists.

Outgoing Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has until 27 November to reach a majority otherwise new elections will be held in January 2024.

How could a short-haul flight ban help the environment?

Eliminating short flights where there is a rail alternative of up to four hours would save up to 300,000 tonnes of CO2 and 50,000 air operations per year, according to a study released last month by Ecologistas en Acción.

The confederation of environmental groups proposed 11 air routes that could be replaced by train journeys, slashing Spain’s CO2 emissions from domestic aviation by almost 10 per cent.

However, the government’s proposal waters down this target by focusing on journeys that can be made by train in under 2.5 hours.

It also would not apply to connecting flights to hub airports - a caveat that has led Ecologistas en Acción to label the ban a theoretically “stellar measure” that remains “purely symbolic” in practice.

France’s short-haul ban proved to be similarly limited, impacting just three flight routes.

Does Spain have enough train connections to replace short-haul flights?

Train travel is gaining popularity in Spain, with rail’s share of the Madrid-Valencia route already at 90 per cent versus flying, president of Spanish airline association ALA Javier Gándara told newspaper Politico.

It’s not always easy to replace short-haul flights with train journeys, though. Making an international connection at Madrid’s Barajas Airport from a city like Valencia would involve taking a high-speed train to the capital’s central station then switching to a regional service.

Connecting international flights are therefore not included in the proposed ban, as passengers would likely just choose to connect at other European airports instead.

Spanish airline Iberia has also argued that the frequency of trains serving major airports currently cannot match that of short domestic flights.

ALA has argued that, rather than enforcing a ban, large airports should be connected to the high-speed rail network to give travellers the choice between flying and train travel.

The network is rapidly expanding, with Barajas Airport due to be connected to it by 2026.

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