The boss of British Airways/Iberia holding company International Airlines Group has stepped into the row over planned European emissions trading.
Chief executive Willie Walsh warned that European Union plans to impose a green levy on all airlines could trigger an international trade war.
His views echo concerns raised by IATA over the European Emissions Trading Scheme.
Walsh fears that the Chinese, American and Russian governments could all retaliate if their carriers are forced to participate from next year.
The scheme, which will force airlines to pay for “carbon credits” if they exceed their emissions threshold, could add as much as £10 to the price of a transatlantic flight.
This levy is being challenged in the European Courts by the American Air Transport Association.
Walsh said: “It is clear that the countries are going to retaliate, whether in the form of imposing additional taxes on European airlines or restricting access to markets.
“The uncertainty will just add more cost it will add concern in the minds of travellers they will face disruption to services and I think there is a real risk that that could happen.”
Walsh supports the principle of an emission trading scheme which should be agreed internationally and not just imposed on carriers by the EU and he urged Brussels to limit the scheme to flights within the European Union.
“I think Europe trying to impose its trading scheme on the rest of the world is going to lead to actions by other states who just do not agree with it,” he told the Daily Telegraph.
“The problem the industry faces it introduces new uncertainty when the industry is struggling to deal with the price of oil.”
His comments came as the EU climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard stressed that it has a right to impose legislation to cut emissions from aviation and showing weakness would encourage further challenges to EU policies.
Hedegaard replied to Airbus chief executive Tom Enders and Association of European Airlines chairman Steve Ridgway (Virgin Atlantic), saying that to back down now on agreed legislation would in itself send out a dangerous signal of weakness.
“If nations and regions do not defend their legitimate right to legislate and take appropriate non-discriminatory measures applicable to all economic operators, it would send an extremely unfortunate signal and create problems not just for the global climate, but also for European companies and businesses,” Hedegaard wrote.
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