Airbus delivered 15 A380s in 2017, and plans to hand over just five more than that over the next two years as part of a plan to slow production while it waits out some orders.
Make that one order.
"We're still talking to Emirates," Airbus chief salesman John Leahy said during the OEM's annual full-year orders and deliveries briefing January 15. "But quite honestly, they're probably the only one who has the ability right now in the marketplace to take a minimum of six a year for a period of 8-10 years, and then we can add some on top of that.
"So quite honestly, if we can't work out a deal with Emirates, I think there is no choice but to shut down the program."
Emirates, of course, is the de facto backbone of the A380 program. The airline has ordered 142 of the 317 sold, and taken delivery of 101 of the 222 built. Talks between Airbus and the airline about another large order have apparently stalled, leaving the program's future in doubt—and perhaps prompting Leahy's blunt assessment.
While Leahy left little to the imagination, he also expressed confidence that the A380's "time will come."
Congested mega-hubs that the airplane was built to serve aren't getting any less crowded, he says.
"Every 15 years, air traffic doubles," Leahy said. "You're not going to double the number of flights going to Heathrow or Frankfurt or Charles de Gaulle or JFK or LAX or Hong Kong or Beijing. So if people want to fly, they need to fly in bigger aircraft."
In the meantime, Airbus will throttle A380 production back to 12 in 2018 and eight in 2019. Six per year is the lowest it can go and still hold out hope.
"We have a supply chain. My teams did a great job, and we came to the conclusion that we needed a minimum of six aircraft a year to maintain industrially an efficient production line," Airbus Commercial President Fabrice Bregier explained. "We will never produce white tails."
Both Leahy and Bregier said that orders from other airlines are possible. But they suggested that only one airline's order really matters.
As Bregier put it: "It is clear that Emirates is key for the long-term future of this program."