Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary has hit back at criticism from the climate change minister, saying his airline was "the greenest in Europe".
In a broad attack on airlines' efforts to tackle carbon emissions, Ian Pearson said Ryanair was the "irresponsible face of capitalism".
But Mr O'Leary said Mr Pearson was "silly" and "hadn't a clue what he is talking about".
Mr Pearson also said the attitude of US airlines to emissions was "a disgrace".
In an interview with the Guardian, Mr Pearson said: "When it comes to climate change, Ryanair are not just the unacceptable face of capitalism, they are the irresponsible face of capitalism."
He also attacked British Airways, saying it was "only just playing ball" on environmental regulations, and Lufthansa, the German airline.
Mr O'Leary defended his company and the industry as a whole.
''We are the greenest airline in Europe but you know being savaged by a dead sheep - as we were by this minister this morning - is like water off a duck's back.''
"What he should be attacking is the power generation stations and the road transport who between them account for over 50% of emissions."
He said the "silly" minister and "eco-lunatics" were targeting the aviation industry when it accounted for 2% of the problem.
Even though his company was growing, the new planes it had invested Â£10bn in the last five years had cut its emissions and fuel consumption by 50%, Mr O'Leary said.
He added: "He hasn't a clue what he's talking about and is attacking the wrong target in the airlines."
But Green Party MEP Caroline Lucas said Mr Pearson should resign or scrap the government's aviation expansion plans.
"Ian Pearson's comments are absolutely incredible," she said.
"If anyone other than a government minister had made them they would have been a useful contribution to our efforts to tackle climate change.
"But for someone with collective responsibility for the government's support of the biggest expansion of the aviation industry in a generation to do so is nothing less than a deceptive admission of failure."
Chancellor Gordon Brown attempted to boost the government's green credentials in his pre-Budget report by doubling air passenger duty from Â£5 to Â£10 on short haul flights. Passengers on long haul flights could pay up to Â£80 extra.
But green campaigners said the increased levy would make little difference to emissions.
Friends of the Earth said if the government was serious about fighting climate change it should scrap airport expansion plans and tax breaks for the air industry.
Ryanair has opposed efforts by the EU to control aviation carbon emissions by including them in a trading scheme, saying it would discriminate against low-cost airlines.
The EU's scheme will see airlines pay for exceeding their current level of emissions.
Flights within Europe will come under the jurisdiction of the Emissions Trading Scheme by 2011.
The scheme would be expanded from 2012 to include all international flights that arrive at or depart from an EU airport.
Airlines would be issued with pollution permits - those that cut emissions would be able to sell their surplus while an airline that increased its emissions would have to buy more permits.
The US has already questioned whether it would be legal within global trading rules to force airlines flying into the EU to take part in the scheme.
And there are reports that US airlines are considering legal action to overturn the EU's efforts.
In a statement, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: "Urgent progress is needed to ensure that aviation addresses its climate change impacts."
Toby Nicol, spokesman for Budget airline Easyjet, said the company "stands full-square with the government" on the proposal to include EU internal flights and international flights in the carbon trading scheme.
Liberal Democrat environment spokesman Chris Huhne said Mr Pearson's focus should be directed at the chancellor to encourage him to make "the right framework to ensure that airlines are sustainable in the long run so the planet is there for our children and our grandchildren rather than whinging about the airlines."
- 183 Environment