MIAMI – All low-cost airlines operating in France are at risk of having their domestic flights banned by the government if a train journey of less than two and a half hours exists for the same route.
The government had previously said it would specifically prohibit Air France, the national flag carrier, from operating the routes. Now it has stated, according to a report by connexionfrance.com, that it will also carry out a decree to every low-cost airline from operating the routes too.
This means no low-cost airline will fill the apparent gap left by Air France, let alone poach its customers.
Comments from the Federal Ministry of Transport
Junior transport minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari told RTL news source that it was not conceivable that the French government would allow operators of any kind, particularly low-cost operators, to get involved.
Thus, the Djebbari assured that the government would issue a decree which was compatible with European law for environmental reasons so that there is no risk of any competition.
An unresolved bailout agreement
On June 19, AF was set to receive a €7bn aid package from the French government in the form of loans and commercial funding. The European Commission argued that other means of obtaining liquidity have been “explored and exhausted.”
However, according to aviator.aero, it seems that Air France-KLM shareholders, the French and Dutch governments, cannot agree on the bailout terms. The Dutch government wants to control how the US$4.4bn is used; in particular, it wants to see that it only goes to the Dutch part of the airline.
With the bailout, AF intended to reduce domestic services, but Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire had already said at the time that with more environmentally friendly high-speed trains, domestic flights were not justified.
CEO of Air France-KLM Benjamin Smith has already committed to reducing the airline’s French domestic routes by 40% by 2021.
Planes, trains and French travel
Besides TGV France, the country’s intercity high-speed rail service, which is operated by the SNCF, the state-owned national rail operator, few airlines operate flights along routes that are less than two and a half hours, Air France short-haul subsidiary, Hop! being one of them.
According to newspaper Le Figaro, if and when such TGV routes open, the equivalent air route usually ceases soon after, as people choose to take the train naturally.
The takeaways is that while the measures appear to be harsh, in practice they are unlikely to make a big difference in French air travel.
With 37 domestic routes, easyJet (U2) is the country’s main low-cost competitor to Air France.
However, by train, U2’s routes from Paris-Toulouse and Paris-Nice take more than four hours and nearly six hours respectively. This means that they do not fall within the two and a half hour limit set by the government.
Ryanair (FR), another low-cost competitor to AF, has two domestic routes in France connecting Beauvais’ “Paris” airport to Béziers (Hérault, Occitanie) and Corsica’s Figari.
Finally, low-cost Spanish carrier Volotea (V7), which also operates flights from Beauvais, is expected to expand its domestic services within France, but most of those will not be affected by the government cap.
Volotea’s services include flights 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.
It seems that the government cap on short-haul air travel is only drastic on the surface. Ultimately, the effectiveness of the ban will be measured by the number of passengers willing to travel either by air and land.