Domestic Flights in Germany – Facts Overview

I’m sure, by now, everyone in Germany stumbled upon a discussion about the bad climate effects of flying and many people and politicians ask for a ban of domestic flights in Germany. I was curious and started my own analysis.

Data Gathering

There are many statistics out there about domestic flights and their effects, but I wanted to look at the data myself. First of all, I needed to know how many domestic flights are there actually. I did some research and found many APIs (such as AviationEdge) that offer flight schedules or live flight tracking, but most of them charge for their use. Additionally, I was also interested in the aircraft types that are flying domestically, and this information was rather hard to extract from the APIs that I tested. I ended up finding a neat overview of all departing flights per airport with aircraft code on flightradar24. I scraped 2 weeks worth of data for Germany’s 25 biggest airports (big in terms of number of passengers, here’s a list on Wikipedia). My scraped data includes all publicly listed flights departing from these 25 airports in a 2 weeks time frame.

Germany's Domestic Flights per Day per Aircraft Type

Now, that I know how many and which aircrafts are flying daily between German airports (around 650), I had to figure out how much CO2 they are emitting. As I’ve learned, it’s not only the pure CO2 emission that is important, but the CO2 equivalent of all greenhouse gas emissions and other effects with negative climate impact, such as condensation trails.

Calculating CO2 Emissions for Flights

Atmosfair is doing a great job of calculating the CO2 emissions of flights, by taking everything into consideration (info how they calculate the CO2 emissions). So I used their calculator to calculate the CO2 emissions of the most common routes in Germany per passenger and aircraft type.

Top Routes Germany, CO2 Domestic Flights

Usually aircrafts operate with a passenger load factor (PLF) of around 80% (Source). With this information, the information which aircrafts are flying each day, and knowing how many passengers fit in these aircrafts, I was able to calculate the number of passengers that are flying domestically every day (on average) – 95.000.

These 95.000 passengers that are daily flying domestically emit together about 5.900 tons CO2 equivalent. This is a little more than the whole country Puerto Rico and its 3,2 million people emit per day (here’s a list of countries by their CO2 emissions, very interesting!).

Alternatives to Flying Domestically

As you can see in the visual with Germany’s top routes, the most flights are still between Munich and Berlin, even with the new fast train connection that exists between these two cities since end of 2017. According to DB many people already switched from flying to using the train (18%), but about 6.500 people are still flying every day on this route.

Out of curiosity, I started researching for alternatives for this specific route. The Umweltbundesamt compared different ways of transportation and their emissions, you can find the whole overview here. I used their data to calculate the emissions for the route Munich Center to Berlin Center, which has a distance of 528 km by plane, 585 km by car/bus, and a litte more by train. In addition, I included the duration of these trips. The car duration is based on Google Maps, the trains duration based on the fastest train of DB, the bus duration is based on Flixbus’ fastest bus and the flight duration is based on a sum of travelling to the airport, time for security, boarding, flight time, disembarking, and getting to the city center. The results of the calculation can be seen in the following visual.

Note: Trains emissions are calculated based on the average German electricity mix. Actually, the ICE on the route Berlin-Munich is running with 100% green electricity, so if you would calculate based on this, the emissions would be close to 0 per passenger.

Route MUC - TXL and Transportation Alternatives

As you can see, there are many alternatives that emit way less CO2. Not all of these alternatives are always feasible (because of time or money), but everyone should at least take them into consideration before flying domestically. It’s especially important to consider alternatives, in order to keep your own yearly CO2 emissions lower than the calculated upper limit. This limit indicates that if everyone of us emits more than the calculated amount, we won’t be able to keep global warming lower than 1,5 to 2°C, which would lead to drastic catastrophes. These upper limits vary, based on calculation, from 600 kg to 2300 kg per year and person.

Political Discussion: To Ban Domestic Flights?

As mentioned in the beginning of this article, many politicians are currently asking for a ban of domestic flights (just see what pops up when you google it…). I’m a big supporter of fighting climate change, but take a look at the following visual and decide for yourself whether we should keep discussing a ban of domestic flights or use our brainpower to figure out ways how we could reduce WAY more emissions (CO2 tax, kerosene tax, switch from coal to renewables, …).

Germanys Total Emissons in Comparison to Domestic Flights

I’m really curious to know what you think about this topic. If you can think of other interesting facts regarding climate change that I could take a look at from a data perspective, let me know 🙂