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Finland should ban domestic flights less than 400 km, expert says

New rules in France forbid domestic flights that could otherwise be made by train in less than 2.5 hours. A researcher says that's an option Finland should consider.

Airplane at Joensuu Airport.
Airplane at Joensuu Airport. Image: Heikki Haapalainen / Yle
Yle News

There are two possible ways to ban short-distance domestic flights, according to a Finnish researcher.

One option, they say, would be to decrease the amount of airline subsidies handed out. The other would be to make laws to limit flights based on distances, like in France.

A ban on short-distance flights in France went into effect on Tuesday, the result of a law aimed at reducing emissions and promoting train travel, which is more climate friendly. France's new rules forbid domestic flights that could otherwise be made by train in less than 2.5 hours.

It would be advantageous for Finland to make similar reforms as well, according to Stefan Baumeister, a researcher at the University of Jyväskylä who studies the environmental impacts of domestic air travel.

"The railway network here is so good that, in my opinion, all flight routes that are shorter than 400 kilometres should be closed. Train connections are still as fast as air traffic," he said.

In terms of profitability, the 400-km mark is the sweet spot, Baumeister explained. Trips longer than that can, in contrast to shorter journeys, pay off in terms of time and cost with the help of air travel.

"Empty planes"

He said that from an environmental perspective, domestic air travel is a disaster.

"It is just plain stupid that we have empty planes flying around Finland," Baumeister said.

It was reported in March that the Finnish Parliament granted 17 million euros to subsidise flights with low passenger numbers to regional airports until spring of next year.

This means that flights to five regional airports, Kokkola-Pietarsaari, Joensuu, Jyväskylä, Kajaani and Kemi-Tornio are able to continue with the state support.

Some of the regional flights offer airlines more than 1,000 euros per passenger, as the routes fail to turn a profit.

Baumeister said cutting those subsidies would quickly reduce the number of domestic flights. If they were no longer subsidised, unprofitable routes and mostly-empty flights would be a thing of the past.

"If the government support would come to an end, those routes would automatically disappear," Baumeister said.

The second option to cut short domestic flights would be an outright ban, like in France.

However, even though the ban in France stems from a 2021 climate change law, some airlines asked the European Commission to examine its legality. Four months after the commission gave the green light, the ban went into effect.

The French law also stipulates that more trains are added to replace the missing air routes with sufficient frequency so that rail services are able to adapt to a possible spike in passenger numbers.

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