BA165, a British Airways passenger flight takes off from Heathrow Airport, cruising over Europe at 39,000 feet.
BA165, a British Airways passenger flight takes off from Heathrow Airport, cruising over Europe at 39,000 feet. - 

David Brancaccio: Europe's biggest airlines say a new European tax on the carbon dioxide coming out their jet engines is a bad idea. Executives at British Airways, Air France, Lufthansa and the aircraft maker Airbus have signed a letter calling for a delay for a new carbon tax. The levy has already drawn the ire of China, which could delay buying new European-made jetliners in retaliation.

Ian Clark works at a British legal firm specializing in aviation law, and joins us now from London. Good morning.

Ian Clark: Good morning.

Brancaccio: Help me understand the objection here to this carbon tax.

Clark: This is a tax which is being applied to airlines from all over the world, if they fly to, from, or within the European Union. The problem is that it is effectively taxing airlines for their operations outside the EU as well as when they are actually here.

Brancaccio: So it's not an objection to the idea of putting a price on this kind of pollution known as carbon dioxide?

Clark: I think the airlines feel it's fairly unfair, because airlines strive to improve their fleets all the time. And the efficiency of jet engines over the last ten or 20 years have been really quite enormous. There's little that the individual airline can do about it.

The whole idea of emissions trading was to have various industries reduce their carbon footprint and their emissions. And of course, a factory can actually take some steps about that, but at the moment, airlines are really bound to buy from either one or the other main aircraft manufacturers, who are doing their level best to reduce the emissions from engines.

Brancaccio: Any calculations on the cost if this tax were to go forward for the airlines?

Clark: It's measured in the billions of dollars.

Brancaccio: In the billions. All right. Ian Clark works at a British law firm that specializes in aviation law. Mr. Clark, thank you very much.

Clark: Thank you.

Follow David Brancaccio at @DavidBrancaccio