BERLIN/GENEVA (Reuters) - Airbus (AIR.PA) shares slid 10.4 percent on Wednesday, their worst drubbing in more than six years, after the planemaker predicted flat profits in 2016, surprising investors who had expected new and recently upgraded models to start boosting results that year.
The world's second-largest planemaker after Boeing (BA.N) was also forced to call off a ceremony planned for Saturday to deliver its new A350 jetliner to Qatar Airways after the Gulf airline said it was delaying the handover indefinitely.
Analysts said the rebuff from the airline, famously picky about accepting new aircraft and widely believed to use such tactics to obtain last-minute concessions, was overshadowed by concerns over the model it replaces, the A330.
Airbus, which has already announced plans to cut A330 production by 10 percent to nine aircraft a month, said it would have to cut production again in 2016 to an unspecified level.
That follows slow progress in finding buyers for the current model ahead of a mid-term upgrade called A330neo in 2017, as well as a sharp output ramp-up for the all-new A350.
"The most critical years are 2016 and 2017," Chief Executive Tom Enders told analysts at an investor conference.
Airbus said core operating income would return to growth in 2017. Some analysts had expected double-digit improvements as early as 2016.
Airbus shares tumbled 10.4 percent, the biggest one-day percentage fall since July 2008, to close at 43.175 euros, their lowest close since mid-October.
Aerospace analyst Rob Stallard said the transition between current models and new ones, which also affects the smaller A320 family, was proving a bigger drag on profits than expected.
For now, analysts advised against reading too much into the postponed first A350 delivery, which Airbus has targeted by year-end and which it still predicts will happen "very soon".
Meanwhile Airbus remained in sombre mood on the poor-selling A380, the world's largest airliner.
For over a year, it has been studying three strategic options, first reported by Reuters: cut production, invest in an upgrade or stop trying to sell more A380s and merely produce what it has already sold.
Enders said Airbus would take a decision "purely on economic terms" in the near to mid-term. Finance Director Harald Wilhelm said the project would break even in 2015 and stay in balance through 2018, whether it decided to improve or discontinue it.
It is pushing for at least one new customer by end-year and is said to be increasingly focusing its sales pitch on the flexibility of the two passenger decks, telling airlines this will help collect more premium revenues.
Some industry sources have said Airbus is hoping a handful of A380s no longer destined for Japan's troubled Skymark Airlines could end up with Skymark's larger rival ANA (9202.T). Airbus declined comment. Skymark said earlier it was in code-share talks with ANA after starting similar talks with Japan Airlines.
Additional reporting by Maria Sheahan; Editing by Mark Potter, Greg Mahlich