Spain could be banning short-haul flights soon if the plans to form a coalition government go ahead. As general elections in July 2023 were inconclusive, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has signed a coalition deal with far-left party, Sumar, which details policy initiatives for the upcoming electorate.
While the measure is dependent on the coalition’s success in forming a government by 27 November, the proposed ban is already highly disputed by the airline industry and climate activists alike.
1. The plan
In a move similar to the recent French ban on short haul flights, the aim is to scrap all domestic flights shorter than 2.5 hours where suitable alternatives exist. Concretely, that means connections from Madrid to and from Barcelona, Valencia, Alicante and Seville would be switching from plane to train. Other domestic connections, where train journeys take longer than 5 hours, like Barcelona – Seville, will remain available by plane.
Weather or not the coalition will take power and implement the measure, Spanish environmental group, Ecologistas en Acción, has already called it “purely symbolic”, due to its limited applicability as only a reduced number of routes would be impacted.
Moreover, Spanish airline association ALA has pointed out that, where possible “in recent years, passengers have already shifted from planes to trains”. According to the association’s president, Javier Gándara, up to 80% of the Spanish domestic routes are now operated by train, in the case of Madrid – Valencia, over 90% of travellers already take the train instead of plane.
Gándara also pointed out that many of the short domestic flights serve as connections to travel hubs in Madrid or Barcelona from where passengers then move on to international trips. The problem with the proposed flight ban is that airports are not connected to the national high speed rail network, he said. For example, one would have to take a train from Valencia to the central train station in Madrid and from there take a regional train, the metro or a taxi to reach the Barajas International Airport, which is impractical.
While the aviation industry is not directly opposing the ban, it is highlighting the need for the further development of the rail network for passengers to have truly convenient alternatives. “Until there is a true intermodal system that allows an efficient connection of the airports with high-speed railways, it is impossible to replace short-haul flights with rail travel”, Beatriz Guillén, Director of Global Sales at Iberia, said in a statement earlier this year. Without domestic flights, it is not possible to meet the demand of the millions of travellers who need to connect with their medium- and long-haul flights.”