Airbus chief operating officer for customers John Leahy believes a failure to secure a follow-on A380 agreement with Emirates would effectively force closure of the programme.
But Leahy, who is set to retire from Airbus this year, remains confident that the Middle Eastern carrier will continue to commit to the double-deck type.
He says Airbus is "still talking" to Emirates, after the high-profile failure to land an agreement during the Dubai air show last November.
But the airframer has drawn up plans to cut production to as few as six aircraft per year beyond 2019, and Leahy acknowledges that Emirates is "probably the only [customer]" capable of supporting deliveries at this reduced rate if the low-demand situation persists for several years.
If Emirates does not order the aircraft, he believes there will be "no choice but to shut down the programme".
Airbus commercial aircraft president Fabrice Bregier says the company plans to deliver 12 A380 this year and eight next year.
"We will never produce white-tails," he says. "But there are other potential customers beyond Emirates."