Airbus A380
Sean Gallup  /  Getty Images file
Airbus parent EADS said Thursday that the A380 superjumbo, shown here arriving at Schoenefeld Airport during the ILA Berlin Air Show earlier this year, is facing further delays.
updated 9/21/2006 2:32:26 PM ET 2006-09-21T18:32:26

The parent company of Airbus announced fresh delays Thursday to the flagship A380 jet and Emirates, the superjumbo’s biggest airline customer, said its 45-plane order was now “up in the air.”

European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co., which owns 80 percent of Airbus, said in a statement that it expects the 555-seater jet program to fall even further behind schedule than the one-year delay already announced.

EADS gave no new timetable or cost estimate for the new delivery setback, and the European defense group’s shares fell 2.2 percent to 22.30 euros in Paris.

A380 customers are still awaiting a revised delivery schedule, according to several of the 14 airlines and leasing companies that have placed 134 orders for the world’s biggest passenger jet. Airbus has taken a further 25 orders for the superjumbo’s freighter version.

But in a worrying sign for the Toulouse, France-based plane maker, its biggest superjumbo customer said the future of its order could now be in doubt.

Asked whether Emirates might cancel its order, worth over $13 billion at list prices, spokeswoman Valerie Tan said: “Things are up in the air right now. It’s hard for us to say.”

Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. also said the fresh setback could affect its order for six A380s, with a catalog value of $1.75 billion.

“You would expect another delay like this to have an impact on our A380 program and we will now wait to hear from Airbus on their delivery plans,” airline spokeswoman Anna Knowles said.

In a separate Emirates statement issued later, Chairman Tim Clark said the airline “has taken no position with regard to cancellation” or a possible compensation claim.

“Emirates is concerned primarily with establishing exactly when the aircraft will be delivered,” Clark added. “There is no point in any further speculation.”

Emirates has reserved 43 superjumbos from Airbus and two more through a leasing company — orders that Airbus would not necessarily lose if Emirates withdrew.

EADS, which is carrying out an audit of A380 manufacturing at Airbus, said Thursday it had encountered “continuing industrialization challenges with the wiring of production aircraft” that are expected to lead to unspecified “further delays.”

Airbus also blamed wiring problems when it announced a second six-month delay to the A380 program in June, causing EADS shares to plummet more than 25 percent in one day and triggering a management crisis that led to the ouster of EADS Chief Executive Noel Forgeard and Airbus CEO Gustav Humbert, who was replaced by Christian Streiff.

Streiff has imposed a temporary hiring freeze at Airbus and is scheduled to report to shareholders next month on the full extent of the A380 problems.

The European jet maker maintains it is still on track to deliver the first A380 to launch customer Singapore Airlines Ltd. by the end of the year. But the carrier suggested Wednesday that the timetable could still slip.

“Airbus can only confirm the date after they have completed their technical review at the end of September,” airline spokesman Stephen Forshaw said.

Germany’s Lufthansa AG said Thursday it still expects Airbus to deliver its 15 superjumbos on time, despite news of another production delay.

“We still assume that we will receive and operate our first A380 in the summer of 2008, so the situation hasn’t changed for us,” airline spokesman Stefan Schaffrath said.

EADS and Airbus had been coming under growing pressure in recent days amid reports of further holdups.

Mike Turner, chief executive of Britain’s BAE Systems PLC and a member of the Airbus board, said last week that additional A380 delays were likely. BAE plans to sell its 20 percent stake in Airbus to EADS.

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