Speaking at an aerospace conference in the Emirati capital Abu Dhabi, Qatar Airways CEO Akbar al-Baker predicted the emissions policy would be "the most important thing" facing the industry — and Mideast carriers in particular — in the coming years.
"This is just unfortunately a cover-up for the inefficiencies of the European Union in the management of their finances," al-Baker said. "This is an ... indirect way of collecting more taxes, but I don't know what they are going to do with all this money."
Al-Baker's comments are the latest barbs aimed at the European Union's decision to add airlines to its so-called emissions trading scheme, which aims to reduce global warming. Although lauded by environmentalists, the new rules have been criticized as unfair by several countries.
The EU plan requires airlines flying to or from Europe to obtain certificates for carbon dioxide emissions. They will get free credits to cover most flights this year, but after that must buy or trade for credits.
Emissions are counted for the entire length of any flight that touches down in Europe. Opponents say the EU has no right to impose fees on flights outside its airspace.
European leaders say the curbs are needed because aviation carbon emissions on the continent have doubled between 1990 and 2006, and because world leaders have failed to reach a new global deal on cutting emissions.
China announced in February it would prohibit its airlines from paying the EU charges, whose critics also include the United States, Russia and India.
The issue is sensitive for booming Mideast carriers such as Qatar Airways because they are rapidly expanding their fleets to accommodate increased long-haul traffic through their Gulf hubs. Their route networks include numerous European destinations, including several cities in Britain and Germany alone.
Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, which hosts the region's other major carriers, Emirates and Etihad Airways, have not yet taken any retaliatory action against Europe over the emissions scheme.
But Sheik Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, chairman and CEO of the region's biggest carrier Emirates, told reporters the policy remains a concern for the industry as a whole. He noted that Emirates' fleet — like that of its Gulf rivals — relies heavily on younger, more fuel-efficient planes than many airlines elsewhere in the world.
"It will hurt everybody. At the end of the day, the passenger will pay for it," he said.