Flight Limits In The Spotlight At French Transport Ministry Aviation Debate  

Clement Beaune

French Transport Minister Clement Beaune addresses the event which took place during the Paris Air Show.

Credit: Helen Massy-Beresford/AWST

PARIS—The possibility that air traffic growth may need to be capped to meet industry sustainability goals dominated a debate including industry and NGO representatives organized by the French Transport Ministry to coincide with the Paris Air Show.   

French Transport Minister Clement Beaune told Aviation Daily on the sidelines of the June 19 debate that a study into the possibility of flight limits at Paris Orly airport had been launched and another at Charles de Gaulle was imminent. “They take around a year,” he said. After that, any decision on measures to be implemented would be taken, he added.  

The roundtable came around a month after the ministry agreed to study the possibility of imposing flight limits at Paris airports, following pressure from campaigners that want the country to follow the lead of the Netherlands, which is trying to impose a limit on flight capacity at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport in a bid to reduce noise. The move is stalled after a legal challenge by airlines that the Dutch government is appealing.  

In France, the campaigners want a limit of 400,000 flights a year at Charles de Gaulle, the capital’s biggest airport and Air France’s hub, and 200,000 a year at Orly, plus 50,000 a year at business aviation-focused Le Bourget. 

Panelists at the event discussed the broader idea of limiting flights for climate reasons, in the face of projections of huge traffic growth in the coming decades even as the sector aims for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. 

Jean-Marc Jancovici, president of the Shift project, a French think tank advocating the shift to a post-carbon economy, noted that aviation is not the only polluting sector, with cars accounting for about 6% of global greenhouse gas emissions against aviation’s 2%. Albeit air transport is used by a far smaller percentage of the world’s population. 

But having looked at projections for how, Jancovici said: “The conclusion I have come to after looking at the calculations, is that there is no way for aviation to avoid a reduction in traffic of a few percentage points.”  

Bertrand Piccard, founder of Solar Impulse, conceded that the sector was not—for now—sufficiently playing its part in terms of environmental progress, but he struck an optimistic note, highlighting the sector’s long track-record of innovation.  

He also warned against treating aviation as a scapegoat, noting that climate activists put forward the idea of flight quotas as a way to limit emissions, but had not lobbied for quotas for car journeys or kilos of meat consumed. Piccard said there were easier areas to decarbonize, citing the wider roll-out of heat pumps to heat homes as one example.  

“Aviation is not a low hanging fruit—it is difficult to decarbonize,” he said. “There are a lot of sectors we should tackle first but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t address aviation.”  

Piccard also cited the potential for cutting emissions from the current commercial aviation fleet through more efficient flight operations and more electrification of ground operations. “There is grounds for criticism of this lack of momentum,” he said.  

Piccard spoke in favor of the idea of a tax on air tickets aimed at the development of new technologies. “We must limit the excess of our world and when we take a flight because it’s cheap and not because we want to go somewhere,” he said. “That is excess.” 

“Aviation allows us to bring together cultures, discover new places and makes us dream but it shouldn’t be aviation that makes us dream but clean aviation,” Piccard said, adding he believed human ingenuity and common sense would be the solution, and that includes understanding that it is not possible to triple aviation by 2030.  

Augustin de Romanet, CEO of Groupe ADP, which owns and operates Paris’s three airports as well as others around the world, admitted that “aviation took longer than other sectors to start thinking about decarbonization.” But since 2019, the last “normal” year before the coronavirus pandemic, the world of air transport has been transforming, he said.  

De Romanet emphasized the fact that France needs to support the emergence of a sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) sector, a move helped by an announcement of extra funding for aviation sustainability made by President Emmanuel Macron June 16.  

As part of the new investment program Macron announced that €300 million ($328 million) per year from 2024-30 would be allocated to R&D efforts focusing on developing new aircraft and engines—three times as much as before the pandemic—while another important part of the plan would be the creation of a French SAF production and distribution supply chain. 

The government plans to devote €200 million to setting up the BioTJET SAF plant in the Pyrenées Atlantiques which will be able to produce 75,000 metric tons of SAF from forestry residues.  

“Aviation can succeed in decarbonizing,” de Romanet said, adding, “We must not make the aviation sector the scapegoat.”  

Diane Strauss, director of France at transport-focused NGO Transport & Environment (T&E), spoke of a consensus on the necessity of limiting air transport as well as the need for public support for decarbonizing the sector.  

“The announcements by the president go in the right direction,” Strauss said, but she warned “all SAFs are not equal” and “it’s important to help this industry, but also remain lucid on the fact that we won’t have enough to meet pre-COVID demand, let alone the demand that is predicted in the future.”  

T&E itself is campaigning for companies to reduce their business trips by 50% by 2025. 

Strauss said raising the taxes on aviation to meet the same level as other types of transport would help. “One percent of travelers represent 50% of emissions,” she said.  

Beaune said efforts to limit emissions would have an impact on the sector’s growth. “It is nevertheless going to have an impact on traffic,” Beaune said. “We’re certainly going to need measures involving sobriety,” the minister added.  

Beaune also stressed the need for immediate, and concerted, action. “We need to think about aviation without isolating it from the rest. We must not isolate one tool in the toolbox. If we don’t use all the tools at the same time we have no chance,” he said. “We mustn’t wait to have all the answers before we act.”

Helen Massy-Beresford

Based in Paris, Helen Massy-Beresford covers European and Middle Eastern airlines, the European Commission’s air transport policy and the air cargo industry for Aviation Week & Space Technology and Aviation Daily.