Over time, it’s going to cost us all more, but it’s the right approach that we must take,” Delta Air Lines chief executive Ed Bastian told the BBC.
Aviation is responsible for about 2.5% of the carbon emissions that are warming the planet, according to the International Energy Agency.
Critics argue the best way to reduce them is by flying less.
Atlanta-based Delta says that after spending $30m (£22.4m) a year on carbon-offsetting it has been carbon neutral since March 2020.
It has also pledged to spend $1bn over the next decade to cancel out all the emissions it creates.
Reducing carbon emissions is crucial if the world is to limit global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels as agreed in Paris in 2015, and has been the focus of the COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow.
Andreas Schafer, professor of energy and transport at University College London, says it will “cost trillions rather than billions of dollars” to move the global aviation sector to net zero carbon emissions.
Preliminary results from his team’s research suggest airfares would need to increase by 10%-20% to cover the costs.
“In the short-term, government support will be needed with those costs as decarbonising aviation will be extremely challenging, and current efforts will need to be scaled up dramatically”, says Prof Schafer.
Mr Bastian concedes it is an ambitious goal that his airline won’t be able to achieve alone.
“It’s the biggest long-term challenge this industry faces,” he said. “We’re in an industry that’s classified as hard to decarbonise because we don’t have the bio-fuels or the sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs) en masse yet that we’re going to need.