Don't mention the C word in front of Airbus bosses. Four decades ago Concorde emerged as a machine of stunning elegance that promised to revolutionise air travel. It was a source of national pride that the brightest French and British aerospace brains could create a time machine that was beyond the capabilities of their transatlantic counterparts. Of course, Concorde was a commercial flop and arguably taxpayers are still paying for a grandiose, government-funded folly.

The fear in Toulouse is that the A380 could suffer the same fate. Programme delays stretched the break-even point at which Airbus will recoup non-recurring costs. No-one is clear where that point lies, but it is way more than the 200 units spoken for. Now uncertainties in the market are causing A380 customers to wobble, most notably Steven Udvar-Hazy. Virgin Atlantic's Sir Richard Branson also appears more lukewarm than before.

A380 at Paris
 © Airbus

Maybe the ILFC boss's new scepticism has much to do with his parent company's financial problems, but his mild warnings about an order rethink will be fraying nerves among Airbus executives who face a huge challenge to see the A350 to certification and complete the Power8 cost-cutting programme at a time when falling deliveries are having an impact on cashflow.

The A380 remains a massive technological achievement. But its long-term prospects as a commercially-successful programme have rarely looked so shaky.

Source: Flight International