Speaking at the third Aviation and Environment Summit in Geneva, Airbus President and CEO Tom Enders argued that the real benefits of aviation, particularly for emerging countries, outweigh any damaging effects.
"We need to start highlighting that aviation's contribution to this planet is much bigger than just our carbon output," he explained.
"Even if you go to the extreme and if all flights were stopped, the world would only save two per cent [of global CO2 emissions]. By stopping flights we also stop progress: poorer nations would be denied the single most important catalyst for economic and social development," he said.
While acknowledging that aviation's contribution to global manmade CO2 emissions must be reduced, Tom Enders said that the industry has long been focused on this goal.
"We are actually one of the industries that has been working on this for many years," he said. "Not only because of global warning, but because of sheer efficiency. Less fuel burn means less costs and obviously less emissions."
And in order to further tackle emissions, aviation needs to be pioneering in its approach to future technology, he stressed. Current industry research projects into alternative power sources such as fuel cells and GTL demonstrate a clear commitment to this.
"We as aircraft manufacturers need to concentrate our resources on achieving a significant step change," he said.
He added that aircraft needed not simply to be more fuel-efficient and environmentally friendly, they also should be manufactured and maintained in an eco-efficient way throughout their lifecycle.
Tom Enders also identified other ways of reducing emissions, including improvements to airline operating procedures and air traffic control systems, along with the replacement of fuel inefficient fleets.
Pointing out that thousands of old and mid-generation aircraft still operate today, he called on governments to provide incentives for airlines to upgrade their fleet to much more efficient models.
He concluded that for the aviation industry to tackle the long-term challenges of reducing its emissions it needed to unite. "It's technology but it's also tactics, it's teamwork. We must show that technology and innovation can provide the solutions," he stressed. "Particularly if we work together - across borders, across continents and between competitors, as we do. We are united to tackle this big challenge."