Green Or Gone

Trains Or Planes? The Problem With Vilifying Air Travel

The airline industry certainly has room for improvement, but dreaming of a rail-only future ignores some practical and even environmental realities.

Not that bad, actually.
Not that bad, actually.
Pascal Perri*

-OpEd-

PARIS — What's better, trains or planes? From an environmental perspective, rail transport would seem to be the obvious answer. But is that really the case?

Economically, air transport has an advantage in that plane companies cover their entire operating costs. Not only that, but there's money left over, so to speak, because it's highly taxed: only half of the money spent on an average plane ticket from Paris to Marseilles ends up in the airline's coffers.

Trains, on the other hand, require numerous subsidies. Passengers don't pay the full costs of their trip. Taxpayers cover the rest. Do the ecological benefits of trains offset the additional tax burden? Not necessarily. A calculation of the full CO2 cost should include the signaling equipment and billions of tons of cement used to build high-speed lines, none of which appears out of thin air.

As people in France become more environmentally aware, the airlines — and Air France in particular — are facing a hurricane of criticism. It's gotten to the point where one green lawmaker even suggested banning planes on routes that compete with trains. But this position ignores the crucial economic role that short-haul flights play in connecting passengers to long-haul flights. France is one of the most dynamic domestic markets in Europe. Air France alone flies more than 100 million passengers a year. About half of those passengers make connecting flights.

For those flying within France, taking a high-speed train — the TGV, as it's known here — is an obvious alternative. In theory. But what if everyone did that? Could SNCF (the national train company) handle an additional 25 million passengers, especially on the already saturated route between Paris and Bourgogne? The answer is no, at least not without building a second physical network. And in that case, the train's carbon footprint would go from green to red.

The plane doesn't deserve the fate that ecologists have in store for it.

The traditional airlines have built their growth model around alliances and control of the domestic market. Without all the feeder flights that come into Charles de Gaulle, its Paris hub, Air France would go the way of Alitalia and be reduced to a minor regional airline. Economist Geert Noels reminds us, furthermore, that worldwide, about 80% of flights cover more than 1,500 kilometers. The train just isn't a viable alternative over such distances.

The plane doesn't deserve the fate that ecologists have in store for it. In 15 years, passenger distance increased by 60% while the rise of CO2 emissions from the sector rose just 15%. Engine manufacturers have made tremendous progress reducing the carbon footprint of aircraft.

The airplane is an essential tool for international trade. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't reexamine the industry's competitive logic from a sustainable development perspective. How can we accept, for example, that tickets for a Paris-to Madrid-to New York flight cost significantly less than a direct — and much shorter (by 1,000 kilometers) — Paris-to-New York flight?

Acceptable? — Photo: Joel & Jasmin Førestbird/Unsplash

The same questions can be asked about east-bound flights, and about airline companies from the Persian Gulf region that have built a fortune using this system of strategic layovers and low-cost tickets. With their predatory prices, they come and feed off the European market — and with no regard for the environment.

In the meantime, there's talk of making European airlines pay additional taxes. But that would just increase the price gap with outside competitors and encourage passengers to travel unnecessary kilometers. Is that really what we want?


*Pascal Perri is a French geographer and economist, and the CEO of PNC Economic

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Geopolitics

"The Truest Hypocrisy" - The Russia-NATO Clash Seen From Moscow

Russia has decided to cut off relations with the Western military alliance. But Moscow says it was NATO who really wanted the break based on its own internal rationale.

NATO chief Stoltenberg and Russian Foregin Minister Lavrov

Russian Foreign Ministry/TASS via ZUMA
Pavel Tarasenko and Sergei Strokan

MOSCOW — The Russian Foreign Ministry's announcement that the country's permanent representation to NATO would be shut down for an indefinite period is a major development. But from Moscow's viewpoint, there was little alternative.

These measures were taken in response to the decision of NATO on Oct. 6 to cut the number of personnel allowed in the Russian mission to the Western alliance by half. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the removal of accreditations was from eight employees of the Russian mission to NATO who were identified as undeclared employees of Russian intelligence." We have seen an increase in Russian malicious activity for some time now," Stoltenberg said.


The Russian Foreign Ministry called NATO's expulsion of Russian personnel a "ridiculous stunt," and Stoltenberg's words "the truest hypocrisy."

In announcing the complete shutdown in diplomacy between Moscow and NATO, the Russian Foreign Ministry added: "The 'Russian threat' is being hyped in strengthen the alliance's internal unity and create the appearance of its 'relevance' in modern geopolitical conditions."

The number of Russian diplomatic missions in Brussels has been reduced twice unilaterally by NATO in 2015 and 2018 - after the alliance's decision of April 1, 2014 to suspend all practical civilian and military cooperation between Russia and NATO in the wake of Russia's annexation of Crimea. Diplomats' access to the alliance headquarters and communications with its international secretariat was restricted, military contacts have frozen.

Yet the new closure of all diplomatic contacts is a perilous new low. Kommersant sources said that the changes will affect the military liaison mission of the North Atlantic alliance in Moscow, aimed at promoting the expansion of the dialogue between Russia and NATO. However, in recent years there has been no de facto cooperation. And now, as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has announced, the activities of the military liaison mission will be suspended. The accreditation of its personnel will be canceled on November 1.

NATO told RIA Novosti news service on Monday that it regretted Moscow's move. Meanwhile, among Western countries, Germany was the first to respond. "It would complicate the already difficult situation in which we are now and prolong the "ice age," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters.

"Lavrov said on Monday, commenting on the present and future of relations between Moscow and the North Atlantic Alliance, "If this is the case, then we see no great need to continue pretending that any changes will be possible in the foreseeable future because NATO has already announced that such changes are impossible.

The suspension of activities of the Russian Permanent Mission to NATO, as well as the military liaison and information mission in Russia, means that Moscow and Brussels have decided to "draw a final line under the partnership relations of previous decades," explained Andrei Kortunov, director-general of the Russian Council on Foreign Affairs, "These relations began to form in the 1990s, opening channels for cooperation between the sides … but they have continued to steadily deteriorate over recent years."

Kortunov believes the current rupture was promoted by Brussels. "A new strategy for NATO is being prepared, which will be adopted at the next summit of the alliance, and the previous partnership with Russia does not fit into its concept anymore."

The existence and expansion of NATO after the end of the Cold War was the main reason for the destruction of the whole complex of relations between Russia and the West. Today, Russia is paying particular attention to marking red lines related to the further steps of Ukraine's integration into NATO. Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov previously stated this, warning that in response to the alliance's activity in the Ukrainian direction, Moscow would take "active steps" to ensure its security.

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