More than 250 trades unions and environment groups have signed an open letter opposing plans for bailing out the aviation industry.
The letter to governments demands that any bailouts lead to better labour conditions and a cut in emissions.
They say aviation should make changes already evident in other sectors amid the coronavirus lockdown.
Thanks to a long-standing treaty, international aviation has largely been able to make its own rules.
The campaigners say this must change now that firms are asking for new favours from governments
Their informal group is called “Stay Grounded”. Its spokesperson Magdalena Heuwieser said: “For decades the aviation industry has avoided contributing meaningfully to global climate goals and resisted the merest suggestion of taxes on fuel or tickets.
“Now, airlines, airports and manufacturers are demanding huge and unconditional taxpayer-backed bailouts. We cannot let the aviation industry get away with privatising profits in the good times, and expect the public to pay for its losses in the bad times.”
The aviation association IATA has conducted what it calls an “aggressive” global campaign aimed at persuading governments to introduce measures softening the effect of the virus emergency.
It’s asking for the immediate reduction of all charges and taxes; deferral of any planned increases in charges and taxes for 6-12 months; and the creation of funds to help airlines restart or maintain routes.
It says without such measures, many airlines will go bankrupt – leading to the loss of routes and damage to the economy, as well as thousands of job losses.
Several nations have agreed to some of the industry's demands but in the UK the Chancellor Rishi Sunak has told airlines to look to its own shareholders to keep them running.
UK airports, meanwhile, are asking ministers to grant them a suspension of Air Passenger Duty and other measures when the crisis is over.
Stay Grounded has a very different recipe for a successful outcome at the end of the crisis.
It wants a focus on protecting workers not shareholders; making aviation firms contribute to emissions reductions by cutting air travel demand and strengthening low-carbon alternatives like rail travel; while imposing a kerosene tax and progressive levies on frequent flying.
Pablo Muñoz from the Spanish organisation Ecologistas en Acción, said: “While we are rightly focused on saving lives during the immediate health threat of, our governments have a choice: they can hand taxpayers’ money to corporations unconditionally, or they can seize the opportunity to start building an economy which doesn’t harm people or the planet”.
This touches on a much deeper debate about the nature of the post-Covid recovery. There’s a gulf between people who want to use the crisis for a green stimulus to the economy, whilst others warn that so much money will have been spent conquering the virus that there will be little left for clean energy investment.
IATA has been approached for a comment.