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15 Feb 2021, 13:42
Charlotte Nijhuis

Reduction of domestic flights requires rail investment – German aviation industry

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung / Handelsblatt

The German aviation industry is open to reducing the number of domestic flights to lower emissions, according to an industry concept paper for the time after the pandemic seen by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ). The German Aviation Association (BDL) sees the potential to shift up to a fifth of domestic air traffic to rail, the paper says, but only “if the appropriate conditions are created”, FAZ reports. The BDL counts among these the realisation of substantial rail investments, for which money is lacking according to rail lobbyists, and an "improved rail connection of the airports, especially Munich Airport.” Matthias von Randow, head of BDL, told FAZ that new rules must be designed to avoid simply transferring passengers to foreign plane operators. Carsten Spohr, head of the Lufthansa group, said his company earns nothing from short-haul flights, but runs them anyway for fear of losing travelers to foreign airlines that offer transfers in different countries. Despite this risk, a German or European solo effort on reducing domestic flights can work, von Randow said, as long as “competition-distorting additional burdens on local companies are compensated”, for example through revenues from the air traffic tax.

The German Green Party renewed its call for a significant reduction of domestic flights. “In view of the climate crisis, it is high time to make short-haul flights superfluous as quickly as possible,” Markus Tressel, tourism policy spokesman, told Handelsblatt. This would require real alternatives to the short-haul flights. “By 2035, we want to make rail the faster, more comfortable and cheaper alternative on almost all domestic German routes and to neighbouring countries,” Tressel said. Consumer advocates in Germany also support a reduction in short flights, but consider a ban to be the wrong approach. Short-haul flights are often feeders to long-haul flights, they say, therefore “cooperation with railroads and airlines must be stepped up so that connections can be made reliably and luggage can be checked in at the station”, Marion Jungbluth, head of the mobility and travel team at the Federation of German Consumer Organizations (VZBV), told Handelsblatt. In addition, rail travel must “always be the cheaper alternative” to short-haul flights for consumers, which would require massive investments in route expansion, digitization and better frequency, Jungbluth said.  

In December of last year, the German aviation industry presented a joint master plan to bring air transport more in line with climate protection. The plan, presented by leading industry groups such as the German Aviation Association (BDL) and the Association of German Airlines (BDF), commits companies in the sector to the goal of climate neutrality and sets out detailed measures that can reduce emissions. The industry sees the greatest leverage in replacing older aircraft with more energy-efficient ones, though these efforts have largely come to a standstill as a result of the pandemic.

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