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Short-haul flights under 300 miles dominate Europe’s aviation emissions, study finds

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Short-haul flights that could be replaced with less carbon-intensive transport options make up the majority of Europe’s aviation emissions, a new study has found.

The research, from the University of Manchester, identified a large number of flights covering distances less than 300 miles between cities that are connected to each other with public transport options.

To create the data models, the researchers used a rapidly expanding data broadcasting system to track worldwide air traffic. Air traffic data was then integrated with aircraft emission models to produce quantitative estimates of the engine exhaust emissions of most aircraft types.

Using the data, the team identified several short flights between several city pairs within the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Poland, that operated flights over flat terrain and distances below 200 miles.

The most common routes in the data analysed included Copenhagen-Stockholm, Gothenburg-Stockholm; Rome-Milan, Madrid-Porto and a considerable number of domestic routes in Poland, such as Warsaw-Krakow. There are also flights such as Brussels-Amsterdam where good non-air travel transport links exists and many short flights in central Europe.

The Manchester researchers called on European governments to reassess the network of flight paths across the continent when a legitimate transport alternative exists.

Antonio Filippone, lead researcher, said: “Aviation authorities and airlines have an opportunity to review the frequency of these routes, to reduce emissions, optimise networks, reduce congestion and contribute positively to environmental sustainability.”

The findings have been published just a few weeks ahead of COP26 in Glasgow – the most significant meeting of world leaders to discuss the climate crisis since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015.

With the aviation sector a major emitter of carbon, British Airways said it would source sustainable aviation fuel to cover the requirements for all its flights between London, Glasgow and Edinburgh during the climate conference.

There is work underway from the likes of EasyJet and a number of start-ups to develop electric planes that could be powered by renewable energy theoretically making them carbon neutral. 

However, long-haul flights present a greater challenge due to the current distance limits imposed by “green” flight technologies such as hydrogen or battery-powered aircraft.

Representatives of electric vehicle drivers’ associations from a range of European countries recently announced they would be heading to COP26 to bolster calls for more action to be taken on transport decarbonisation.

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