Emmanuel Macron’s flagship environmental policy to ban domestic flying in France has been condemned as “complete and utter nonsense” by the body that represents global airlines.
France is to outlaw flights between destinations where there is an existing rail connection that takes less than two-and-a-half hours, such as between Orly airport, south of Paris, and Nantes or Bordeaux.
The European Commission signed off the rules earlier this week, which are expected to come into force in the New Year.
It comes as the boss of Dutch flag carrier KLM yesterday encouraged customers to swap flights for trains to cut carbon emissions.
But Willie Walsh, head of airlines body IATA, said research shows that although banning flights of 500km or less would reduce service levels by nearly a quarter, carbon emissions would only be reduced by 3.8pc.
He said: “You see these politicians saying this is the solution: we're going to ban short haul flights. [It is] complete and utter nonsense.
“The measures that have been discussed sound good, but will they really make a difference to the carbon footprint? Well, in the case of banning short haul flights, [it is] not going to have the happy impact that some politicians would lead you to believe.”
The comments by Mr Walsh, the former boss of British Airways, follow similar criticism by Ryanair chief Michael O’Leary of Mr Macron’s plans.
Mr O'Leary told the Telegraph last year: “Be very careful with the French. You can always tell when the French are lying because their lips are moving."
Mr Walsh reiterated his demands for reform to air traffic control as a means to reduce the aviation sector’s carbon footprint.
The skies above Europe remain bogged down in regulation linked to state owned air traffic control operators, with domestic priorities thwarting any attempt to route flights in a more efficient way.
Introducing a “single European sky” would cut journey times and have a significant impact on CO2 emissions.
Mr Walsh continued on Wednesday: “You don't need to talk about an alternative infrastructure to support rail travel, which in many countries doesn't exist. You don't have to get into the debate around whether rail travel is zero carbon, because obviously it depends on how trains are powered.
“Especially when you consider that if you reform air traffic control in Europe, you would reduce CO2 by 10pc. And that can be done overnight.
“We need to have this debate firmly anchored in data. And the data demonstrates that the greatest contribution that politicians could make to this issue is to reform air traffic control in Europe and implement the single European sky.
“We need to be sure that the measures that are being taken actually lead to the objective of improvement in environmental performance.”
Marjan Rintel, chief executive of KLM told the Financial Times, on Tuesday: “If [you] have a good alternative, you should really use it... If you’re serious on reaching your sustainability goals, the train is not a competitor. We need to work together.”