EU ministers have agreed to impose carbon emissions quotas on airlines in an attempt to fight climate change.
Stavros Dimas says aircraft emissions could double by 2020
The Environment Commissioner, Stavros Dimas, said a strong signal had to be sent, although MEPs had wanted carriers to be included in the EU emissions trading scheme in 2011, not 2012.
The United States opposes the idea and has threatened legal action.
And the airline industry fears the cost of the carbon trading scheme could force some carriers out of business.
But Mr Dimas, said that aviation was responsible for 3% of carbon emissions, more than the steel industry which was already part of the trading scheme.
He said aviation emissions had doubled since 1990 and were predicted to double again by 2020.
Under the trading system, the EU limits the amount of carbon dioxide that industry is allowed to emit.
The airlines would have to meet their quotas, either by cutting their emissions or by buying credits from other industries.
Environment ministers meeting in Brussels agreed that airlines would have to buy 10% of permits upfront at auction in 2012, substantially lower than the proportion suggested by the European Parliament.
They also set the cap on emissions at the average level from 2004-2006.
Smaller operators would be exempt from the scheme because of the potential threat to their survival.
Campaigners against climate change have complained that the agreement does not go far enough.
Tomas Wyns of Climate Action Network Europe said that the ministers had failed to implement ambitious targets and were threatening the EU's credibility and leadership in international climate change negotiations.
But UK environment secretary, Hilary Benn, said that Europe had taken "a bold step" in the week after the Bali agreement.
The deal will now have to be negotiated with the European Parliament.