One of the World Route Development Strategy Summit's first panellists dropped a bombshell yesterday: a group of 25 countries on Friday agreed to a joint declaration against the European Union's Emissions Trading System - and they plan to enforce it.
It is the first time multiple countries have banded together to fight the EU on emissions, and follow-up actions to the declaration could include sanctions against EU countries and carriers.
Prashant Sukul, joint secretary of India's Ministry of Civil Aviation, who organised the summit with the USA at the end of September in New Delhi, said the joint declaration has sharp teeth. "If it falls on deaf ears, there are going to be serious economic consequences in Europe," he said.
Sukul said retaliatory measures could include reopening all aviation bilateral agreements with EU countries, a reduction in air service to/from the EU, and even implementing wide overfly zones across Europe.
"There needs to be a wake-up call that growth is not happening in Europe," he said.
"We have the economic power behind us," he added, referring to the countries behind the measure, which include China, the USA, Russia, Brazil, India, Japan and United Arab Emirates.
The joint declaration urges the EU to "refrain from including flights by non-EU carriers to/from an airport in the territory of an EU Member State in its emissions trading system".
The EU emissions programme will take effect in January.
Speaking on the same panel, Olivier Jankovec, director general ACI Europe, said: "We risk having this escalate into a trade war between the EU and other regions."
He noted that EU politicians are "swimming in economic crisis" and that the industry "needs to engage the public on this issue".
"The best environmental system for Europe is a new air traffic system," Athar Husain Khan, deputy secretary general of the Association of European Airlines, said.
Sukul said there was surprising consensus at the private meeting. "To [see] US, Russia, China and Cuba all have the same approach is remarkable," he added.
The group of 25 nations will meet again in November, possibly in Moscow, to decide if the next steps include retaliation.
"If you look at Russia and how every flight East goes over Russia, their actions - as all of our actions - would have a great negative effect on Europe," Sukul said.