Banning flights on UK routes with fast rail links ‘could cut flight emissions by third’

Banning flights on routes with fast rail connections could cut the UK’s emissions from domestic aviation by a third, a report has found.

The report by the thinktank Intergenerational Foundation (IF) found that domestic aviation was responsible for the emission of 2.7 megatonnes of CO2 in 2019 alone – the equivalent of the annual emissions from 1.7 million petrol cars or the energy to power 700,000 UK homes for a year.

If domestic flights on routes with a rail alternative under 4.5 hours were banned, the authors say it would reduce emissions by 885 kilotonnes – a 33% reduction. The reduction rises to 53% when only taking Great Britain into account, as there are no rail links between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

The authors of the report call for a domestic flight ban policy similar to the one implemented in France earlier this year. In April, France became the first country to implement a nationwide short-haul flight ban where alternative trains under 2.5 hours were available.

The disruption to commuters, would be minimal, the report suggests, as for two-thirds of passengers travelling between city centres, taking the train adds less than 30 minutes to their journey compared with flying, while almost a third of journeys are as fast or faster by train.

Angus Hanton, from IF, said: “Now is the moment to challenge the unnecessary use of aviation fuel. This new, un-green government wants to use the current cost of living crisis as an excuse to keep people in planes rather than them taking the eco-option of train travel.”

IF says affected routes would only be 14 minutes longer on average by rail than by air, and would be of comparable price when rail journeys were booked in advance.

Other policies recommended by the report called for similar action to be taken to reduce domestic flights, including removing the millions of free pollution permits given to the aviation industry every year, introducing incentives for passengers to travel by train, and revoking tax breaks currently granted to the domestic aviation sector.

Alethea Warrington, a campaigner at climate charity Possible, said: “Travelling by train rather than plane is one of the best things people can do to help tackle the climate crisis. It’s ridiculous that the government refuses to adequately support our rail network, and yet freely hands airlines tax breaks which push unnecessary domestic flights.

“It’s time to get rid of domestic flights and start taxing frequent flying and aircraft fuel. Then we can invest in the efficient, affordable and climate-friendly rail network we so desperately need.”