Most European Flight Emissions Come From Trips Under 330 Miles

As we prepare for the 26th UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) at the end of this month in Glasgow, we thought we would look at the recent trend of swapping planes for trains. As it stands, most European flight emissions come from less than 330 mile trips.

European airlines
European short-haul flights pollute the most. Photo: Getty Images

While nearly everything we do, from the products we buy and the food we eat, has a consequence for climate change, some activities have a far more damaging effect than others. Of worldwide CO2 emissions, 2.4% come from aviation. At first glance, that might not seem like a high figure until you factor in that only a tiny percentage of the world’s population uses aviation for transport.

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Trains and buses can replace short-haul flights

Many of these very short-haul and domestic flights could easily be replaced with less polluting options like trains and buses. A recent study carried out by the University of Manchester in Northern England found that many flights of less than 300 miles could be undertaken using public transport.

Using emissions data that the team collected, they identified several flat terrain European city to city routes in France, Germany, Poland, and the UK that are less than 300 miles. After publishing their findings, they called on European governments to look at flight paths across the continent where other alternative transport options exist. When speaking with the website Engineering and Technology lead researcher on the project, Antonio Filippone said:

“Aviation authorities and airlines have an opportunity to review the frequency of these routes, to reduce emissions, optimize networks, reduce congestion and contribute positively to environmental sustainability.”

Change is on the way

Various companies worldwide are looking into developing hydrogen or electric-powered aircraft that could be used for short-haul flights. Airlines, too, are looking at ways to help lower their carbon footprint. British Airways is pledging to use sustainable fuels for its domestic flights during the climate conference, while others are taking it a step further. In 2019, Dutch flag carrier KLM replaced its Brussels Airport (BRU) and Amsterdam Schiphol Airport (AMS) route with a train service.

British Airways
British Airways to use sustainable fuel on domestic flights during COP26. Image: British Airways

Austrian Airlines made a similar move following the Austrian government’s decision to make lower carbon emissions a part of its COVID-19 bailout criteria. Austrian Airlines was told it needed to cut carbon emissions by 50% by 2050 and end domestic flights where a reasonable alternative existed. Partnering with national rail operator ÖOB, Austrian and ÖOB now offer 30 trains a day between Vienna International Airport (VIE) and Salzburg central station.

When speaking about the initiative in a company statement, Austrian Airlines CEO Alexis von Hoensbroech said:

“Vienna Airport can be reached by train from Salzburg in well under three hours and without changing trains and is why our AIRail offer is a good and more environmentally friendly alternative to flying.”

The flight time between Vienna and Salzburg is 45 minutes, and the 189-mile train journey takes two hours and 49 minutes. However, the times are comparable when you consider traveling to the airport, check-in security, and boarding.

Other countries are looking to replace planes with trains

There has also been considerable talk in Spain regarding scrapping domestic flights with it possible to travel by high-speed train from Madrid to Barcelona in less time than it takes to fly.

Austrian Airlines Dash-8
Austrian Airlines replaced its Vienna to Salzburg flight with a train. Photo: Austrian Airlines

Germany is also looking at rail replacing trains on domestic routes and is lowing the price of train fares to make them more competitive. In France, too, you will see rail playing more of a role as Air France looks to reduce its carbon footprint following the government’s decision to curtail short-haul domestic flights.

Do you think trains and buses should replace short-haul flights? Please tell us what you think in the comments.