Transport, especially aviation, has come under increased scrutiny due to the global necessity of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and achieving EU and global targets. A new, study titled “Short-haul flying and sustainable connectivity”, compares environmental, social and economic impacts of air and rail transport.
1. Limited benefits
Reluctant to lose influence within the transport sector, a number of European aviation associations commissioned a study to Oxera Consulting, which states that shifting short-haul flights to rail has limited benefits when it comes to CO2 reduction. Moreover, the analysis adds that such a shift would generate other environmental, as well as social and economic, costs.
Concretely, the study points to the construction of new railway lines as a high environmental cost due to the CO2 emissions associated with cement and steel production. It also points to emissions from the fuel used for the construction of infrastructure. Additionally, it identifies significant impacts on biodiversity and damage to wildlife habitats as additional environmental factors.
The report, ‘Short-haul flying and sustainable connectivity’, highlights the fact that the picture is far more complex than simply shifting from one transport mode to another.ACI Europe
The study further suggests that for many short-haul air routes that have a lower traffic frequency or at airports that do not have a good high-speed rail connection, rail can’t be economically attainable as it is based on a different business model that has lower speeds and occupancy rates.
The campaign group Transport and Environment has reached a similar conclusion declaring that the shift from air to rail would be “limited”. A 2020 study conducted by Koios Strategy and commissioned by the group, shows that between 4 to 7 Mt CO2 from intra-European aviation may be avoided by a modal shift from air to rail, which is the equivalent of taking 2.2 to 3.8 million combustion cars off the road. However, the group considers important that these emissions savings are pursued in order to achieve net zero in Europe.
The Oxera Consulting study further defends that aviation decarbonisation will be well underway by the time comparable rail infrastructure is deployed. Hybrid-electric aircraft will be trialled first on regional routes by 2030, bringing CO2 emissions down by 50% per flight in that market segment.
Importantly, aviation decarbonisation will be well underway by the time comparable rail infrastructure is deployed. Hybrid-electric aircraft will be trialled first on regional routes by 2030, bringing CO2 emissions down by 50% per flight in that market segment.ACI Europe
Last week, key leaders from the aviation sector gathered during the Clean Aviation Forum event, discussing general challenges to achieve net-neutrality. From increased cooperation between public and private entities, to the development of efficient new technologies and fuels, the high-profile event took stock of the current landscape in the aviation sector and proposed new ideas and solutions.
The global aviation industry produces around 2.1% of all human-induced CO2 emissions. According to the Air Transport Action Group, aviation is responsible for 12% of CO2 emissions from all transport sources, compared to 74% from road transport.