The European Commission has recommended that airlines should be included in its carbon dioxide trading scheme.
Aviation causes 3% of EU carbon emissions, but the figure is rising
The scheme currently puts limits on the emissions of 12,000 big industrial carbon emitters across the EU, with the aim of curbing global warming.
If they break through the limit, they have to buy credits from companies whose emissions are below target.
It is estimated that the proposal could add up to nine euros (£6) to the price of a return flight.
Aircraft are responsible for 3% of EU carbon emissions but the figure is rising fast.
Forecasts suggest that they could make up 25% of the UK's total contribution to global warming by 2030.
The impact of aviation is also thought to be especially strong because the gases and water vapour caused by aircraft are deposited directly into the upper atmosphere.
"The boom in flying is bringing with it a rapid rise in greenhouse gas emissions," said Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas.
"Extending emissions trading to the aviation sector will limit these emissions and ensure that aviation, like all other sectors, contribute to reducing the harmful greenhouse gases. Through emission trading, airlines will be able to do so at the least possible cost."
Designed to be a cheap method of achieving emissions cuts
Ensures the cheapest efficiency savings are made first
National governments allocate allowances to industry, in line with their Kyoto target
National plans vetted by European Commission
Allows participants to gain credits by financing clean development projects abroad
The commission rejected other measures advocated by environmental groups such as direct emission charges on airlines, but says it is still working to remove the legal obstacles preventing the taxation of aviation fuel.
Under the 1997 Kyoto accord, the EU is obliged to reduce CO2 emissions by 8%, from 1990 levels, by 2012.
A report published in the UK last week said that unless emissions from aviation were curbed, the government would have to reduce emissions from the rest of the economy to zero, in order to meet its target of a 60% reduction by 2050.
The Commission's recommendation must now be turned into a bill, which will need the approval of EU member states and the European Parliament.
Officials have said aviation could enter the emissions trading scheme as early as 2008, depending on how long the legislative process takes.
European airports and some major airlines support the proposal, regarding it as a better alternative to a tax.
Carriers are already struggling with high fuel costs and they face a possible tax on tickets to finance development aid in Africa.
Environmentalists say the proposal is a step in the right direction but does not go far enough.