Short-haul European flights under increasing environmental pressure

Europe’s airlines are coming under increasing pressure to be environmentally responsible. As a result the need to operate extremely short sectors when alternative land (or sea) based options exist is being increasingly questioned.

Image: Europe’s shortest air route is Plymouth-Newquay
Europe’s shortest (not over water) air route is Plymouth-Newquay – 68km. One-way fares start from £24 from Plymouth to Newquay. However, the airline’s website does not allow passengers to book flights between Newquay and Plymouth!

Many of Europe’s shortest air routes involve flights over water including the recognised shortest commercial air route in the world between Westray and Papa Westray in the Orkney Islands operated by Loganair. This flight is all of three kilometres and has an average flying time of just two minutes. Many of Europe’s shortest air services are low capacity Public Service Obligation (PSO) routes linking remote island communities where alternative transport modes are either non-existent or very slow and irregular.

Channel Islands link short and competitive

If a threshold of 1,000 weekly one-way seats is used to eliminate the low-volume, low-frequency routes the top 10 shortest ‘major’ intra-European routes are now as follows:

Route Airline(s) Distance (km) Over water
Guernsey – Jersey Aurigny, Blue Islands, Flybe 39 Yes
Madeira – Porto Santo Sata Air Acores 58 Yes
Plymouth – Newquay Air Southwest 68 No
Vienna – Graz Austrian Airlines 86 No
Helsinki – Tallinn Finncomm Airlines 101 Yes
Larnaca – Paphos Cyprus Airways 105 No
Las Palmas – Tenerife North Binter Canarias, Naysa 112 Yes
Las Palmas – Tenerife South Binter Canarias 117 Yes
Belfast City – Glasgow Prestwick Ryanair 128 Yes
Palma – Mahon Iberia 132 Yes
Source: OAG MAX Online

The major air route between the Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey is not only the shortest by this criteria, but also extremely competitive with three carriers going head-to-head on the route. Seven of these top 10 routes are over water and all are domestic routes with the exception of the Helsinki to Tallinn service which links the capitals of Finland and Estonia.

The shortest route operated by a low-cost airline is the recently introduced Ryanair daily service between Belfast City and Glasgow Prestwick which is a distance of just 128 kilometres. Despite this, the scheduled flying time for the routes is 45 minutes. Presumably punctuality is extremely good.

Image: Aurigny plane
The 39km Guernsey-Jersey route is extremely competitive, with Aurigny, Blue Islands and Flybe going head-to-head.

Finland and Germany prone to short flights

If flights over water are excluded from the analysis the shortest intra-European overland air routes are now:

Route Airline(s) Distance (km)
Plymouth – Newquay Air Southwest 68
Vienna – Graz Austrian Airlines 86
Larnaca – Paphos Cyprus Airways 105
Munich – Nuremberg Lufthansa 137
Helsinki – Tampere Finncomm Airlines 142
Bergen – Floro Danish Air Transport 144
Zurich – Stuttgart Swiss 145
Helsinki – Turku Finnair 150
Frankfurt – Stuttgart Lufthansa 157
Amsterdam – Brussels KLM 158
Source: OAG MAX Online

This list contains eight domestic routes plus international flights between Zurich and Stuttgart and Amsterdam and Brussels. Some of these routes would appear to lend themselves to high-speed rail links given the distances involved. The top 10 contains two Finnish and two German domestic routes, while Stuttgart and Helsinki can share the dubious distinction of featuring twice each in the list.

As intra-European rail services continue to improve and additional environmental taxes appear likely to be levied on airlines, short air routes will be put under more pressure. An example of this is the 380 kilometre Paris to Strasbourg route where the opening of the TGV Est last summer has resulted in a 50% reduction in air travel demand.


  1. D-R Gooch says:

    What this analysis misses is that some of these flights (i.e. Vienna-Graz) have got to be primarily about connections, which means the total distance the passenger is travelling is more significant.

  2. Just wondering what percentage of the total journey is the length of the two runways?

  3. In Germany a lot of short routes that used to exist are now out of service due to fast rail connections. CGN-FRA is no longer offered. Neither are TXL-HAJ and TXL-HAM both of which are considerably longer than the ones mentioned in your overview (about 280 km).

  4. Jim Cameron says:

    The inclusion of the Air Southwest route, Plymouth – Newquay on the list is misleading. The four times per day service, seven days per week Plymouth – Newquay – Gatwick has successfully served the two West Country airports for many years and makes a significant contribution to the economy of the area. The 50 seat Dash 8-300 is one of the most environmentally friendly aircraft still in production and the high seat factor on the services show how important the route is to our customers. Neither PLH or NQY could support 4 times daily service on their own.
    Although not over water, the road and rail alternatives to air are not good and any environmental initiative that damaged the viability of the route would have a significant negative impact on the economy of the area. replies: Thanks for the comment Jim. We understand the issue of having to ‘pool’ the demand from Newquay and Plymouth together to make the frequency viable but why do you sell seats between Plymouth and Newquay but not between Newquay and Plymouth?

  5. Jim Cameron says:

    Further to my last e-mail – Air Southwest has recently stopped selling Plymouth to Newquay.
    With the 4 round trips per day Plymouth – Newquay – Gatwick – Plymouth – Newquay only the last service of the day NQY 2120 – 2140 PLH would have allowed travel back to PLH and by then check – in at NQY was closed so therefore no sales NQY – PLH….

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