France domestic flight ban will apply to low-cost airlines
The French government’s plans to ban domestic flights in France if a train journey of less than two and a half hours exists for the same route will apply to all low-cost airlines and not just Air France, it has emerged.
The government had previously said that it would specifically ban national flag carrier Air France from operating the routes. It has now confirmed that it will also take out a decree to stop low-cost airlines from running the routes too.
This will mean that low-cost airlines will not be able to jump into the apparent gap left by Air France, and “poach” their customers.
Junior transport minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari told news source RTL: “It is obviously not conceivable that we would allow operators of any kind - especially low-cost operators - to get involved. We will therefore issue a decree, for environmental reasons, compatible with European law, so that there is no competition risk.”
The government has said that it will offer Air France a loan of €7 billion, on condition that it reduces its domestic services for environmental reasons.
CEO of Air France-KLM, Benjamin Smith, has already committed to reducing the airline’s French domestic routes by 40% by 2021.
Air vs train routes
But while the rules appear stringent, in practice they are unlikely to make much difference to air travel in France.
Few companies operate flights along routes for which a TGV train journey of less than two and half hours exists - including Air France and its short-haul subsidiary, Hop!.
If and when such TGV routes open, the equivalent air route usually ceases soon after, as people opt to take the train naturally, according to newspaper Le Figaro.
EasyJet is the main low-cost competitor to Air France in the country, with 37 domestic routes.
Yet, its two most-used routes - Paris-Toulouse and Paris-Nice - take more than four hours and almost six hours respectively, by train. This means they do not come under the government’s two and a half hour limit.
Another major low-cost airline, Ryanair, has only two domestic routes in France, linking the “Paris” airport of Beauvais to Béziers (Hérault, Occitanie) and Figari in Corsica.
The Spanish low-cost airline, Volotea, which also operates flights out of Beauvais, is set to extend its domestic services within France, but most of those will not be affected by the government limit.
Services include routes between Nantes and Corsica, as well as Strasbourg, Perpignan, Toulouse, Montpellier and Nice, most of which take longer than two and half hours by train.
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