A new report claims that banning domestic passenger flights for journeys with ‘viable’ train routes of under four-and-a-half hours would cut Great Britain’s emissions from domestic aviation in half.

The report by the Intergenerational Foundation think tank found that almost a third of journeys are as fast or faster by train as they are by aeroplane, with almost two-thirds taking less than 30 minutes extra by train

The report, entitled “Trains over Planes: why the government should encourage domestic train travel”, says that domestic aviation was responsible for emitting 2.7 megatonnes of CO2 and CO2 equivalents in 2019. However, almost two-thirds (62 per cent) of CO2 emissions from UK domestic flights in 2019 were between cities linked by the rail network, and are potentially replaceable by rail travel.

The report calls for the government to ban domestic flights on routes that could be travelled by rail in 4.5 hours or less. The think tank calculates that this would result in a 53 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions from domestic flights within Great Britain and a 33 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions from all of UK domestic aviation.

The Intergenerational Foundation think tank further argues that the negative environmental effects of domestic aviation are not reflected in air fares, and that successive governments have failed to adequately tax air fuel and passengers according to the “polluter pays” principle.

The foundation recommends levying fuel duty on aviation kerosene. At present, fuel used for road transport is subject to fuel duty at 57.95p per litre with VAT being levied at 20 per cent on the after-tax price of the fuel. Diesel used for passenger rail travel is zero-rated for VAT but is subject to fuel duty of 11.14p per litre, the rebated gas oil (red diesel) rate. It compares this with domestic airlines which pay no fuel duty on kerosene (jet fuel) and sells tickets which are zero-rated for VAT.

The foundation says and replacing Air Passenger Duty with VAT would have seen the Treasury receive up to £478 million more in 2019, money it says could then be spent on government investment in green technology and affordable travel.

The report also urges the government to end taxpayer subsidies for domestic aviation, do more to encourage passengers to travel by train, and to increase the capacity on high-demand rail routes.

The only direct tax paid by the aviation sector is Air Passenger Duty (APD) which currently stands at £13 per ticket for domestic flights. This will be further reduced to £6.50 for domestic journeys in 2023.

Angus Hanton, IF Co-Founder, comments, “We are all aware of the risks posed by climate change, and reducing domestic flights is one way in which we can significantly reduce the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. Banning domestic flights with a viable alternative by train would be a faster route to our Net Zero targets and a small but important contribution to protecting future generations from the effects of climate change.”

Wera Hobhouse, Liberal Democrat MP for Bath and author of the report’s foreword, added, “The public understand that flying harms the environment but they need policy support to help encourage them out of planes and onto trains. If the French can ban domestic flights with a rail equivalent so too can the United Kingdom.”