Rod Eddington, the outgoing boss of British Airways, has complained that the US unfairly protects its airlines.
Mr Eddington took over at BA in 2000 and helped improve profits
Speaking at an industry meeting, Mr Eddington said that "America, the land of the free, is turning itself into the land of the free ride".
Four of the biggest US airlines are in Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, which effectively allows them to keep flying while they sort out their finances.
Mr Eddington said there were too many airlines and some needed to close.
"The world does not need 300 airlines," Mr Eddington explained, adding that a number of airlines are "operating in protected markets".
"They exist because of political demand," he continued. "They are hoovering up public funds and they still can't make a profit."
Mr Eddington, who retires from BA at the end of this month, estimated that "in the last four years, the US airlines have soaked up $15bn to $20bn [£8.4bn to £11bn] of public subsidies and loan guarantees".
He said there was enough business for between 10 and 20 major airlines worldwide, and that takeover rules need to be relaxed to make consolidation easier.
The comments came during one of Mr Eddington's last engagements at the helm of BA, and after Delta Air Lines and Northwest Airlines filed for Chapter 11.
The two firms joined United Airlines and US Airways, which already had filed, and their action now means that four of the seven biggest US firms are seeking protection from their creditors.
Airlines worldwide are having to cope with increased competition from low-cost carriers and surging fuel prices.
The former boss of Aer Lingus, Willie Walsh, will take over from Mr Eddington.