THE international aviation industry is heading into new headwinds after the European Union (EU) proposed to impose its emissions trading scheme on aircraft entering its airspace from January 1 in 2014.

An European Parliamentary vote in the proposal’s favour would open the door to a multitude of regional emissions trading schemes and a bureaucratic quagmire for airlines, including South African Airways (SAA), that fly into European airspace.

"It’ll open the door to a massive, massive headache … that’s why (the International Air Transport Association) is pushing for a global, harmonised (emissions trading) scheme," SAA’s environmental affairs chief Ian Cruickshank said on Friday.

Earlier in October, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) agreed to develop, by 2016, a global market-based mechanism addressing international aviation emissions, and to apply it by 2020.

The EU’s move has angered the ICAO, which on October 16 rejected the bloc’s right to charge for emissions within its own airspace until the global emissions trading scheme is implemented in 2020, EuropeanVoice.com reported.

In what may be a concession to ICAO, the European Commission proposed that developing countries that emit less than 1% of global aviation emissions would get a full exemption from emission charges. This amendment received the backing of almost all developing countries. But developed countries, including the US, voted against it, EuropeanVoice.com said.

Mr Cruickshank said the Brics countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) were "aligned in opposition" to the EU decision, but that airlines such as SAA would be forced to comply with it unless political action was taken.

One of the complaints was that the EU would not ring-fence the charges for emissions reductions, Mr Cruickshank said.

"It’s a true tax, not a genuine mitigation measure."

The charges, if introduced, would only marginally increase ticket prices for passengers, he said.

The EU said the decision was a moral one, and argued the European Court of Justice had in 2011 ruled that its aviation emissions legislation was compatible with international law.

European commissioner for climate action Connie Hedegaard said Europe "must insist on our own sovereign right to regulate aviation in our own European airspace. We decide the rules."

Aviation emissions are estimated at 3% of total global emissions of the gases related to the rise in global temperatures, but the European Commission said it was projected that by 2020 global aviation emissions would be about 70% higher than they were in 2005, even if fuel efficiency improved by 2% a year.

SAA earlier in October announced a partnership with Boeing to establish a "sustainable alternative fuels programme" that would be the first for aviation fuel supply chains in Africa.

"When done properly, these new fuels and supply chains will enable South Africa to diversify its energy sources, increase export opportunities, and do so in a manner that is environmentally and socially responsible," Mr Cruickshank said.

SAA had chosen to partner with Boeing in this "due to the rich and cross-cutting knowledge base and biofuel capability" the company had developed over the past decade.