Noel Forgeard, under whose hard-nosed leadership the Airbus A380 superjumbo was born, faces a crisis as its delay hits future profits at parent EADS and strips billions of euros off its market value.

For seven years the powerful boss of Airbus, Mr Forgeard was lauded for rapid growth that took the Toulouse-based planemaker from decades of lagging behind Boeing to beating it in orders in 1999 and in deliveries in 2003.

Airbus and Boeing now split the segment rather evenly, a far cry from when Mr Forgeard took over and the US firm dominated two-thirds of the market.

Yet less than a year since becoming co-chief executive at EADS, his decision to champion the 12 billion euro (£8.21 billion) development of the A380 doubledecker is coming back to haunt him. His 277-tonne baby is over budget and overdue.

For years the $300 million (£163 million) plane has offered futuristic, exciting branding opportunities for airlines. Now angered by its delay, carriers are demanding compensation and some may cancel orders.

Just as bad, while Mr Forgeard has insisted that Airbus tie up money and engineers to build the world's largest passenger jet, rival Boeing, which had fallen behind, has roared back with a new mid-sized model, the 787, which is running away with that vital part of the market.

By Airbus' own forecasts, Boeing has focused on a market that will need far more planes than the relative niche market for an 850-seat double-decker.

Airbus has 233 customers, yet just 16 have said they want the superjumbo.

The boss of one such customer, Virgin Atlantic's Richard Branson, wrote last year of Mr Forgeard's role in sticking with it: "Outside pressure to dump the project was often as intense as Forgeard's drive."

Last week Mr Forgeard apologised for what all sides now acknowledge is a crisis at a company only last year praised by Prime Minister Tony Blair and other European leaders as a marvel of successful industrial cooperation.

The current crisis is expected to put to the test his formidable diplomatic skills, developed as a former aide to President Jacques Chirac and a long-time stalwart in France's business elite.

Mr Forgeard has vowed to get the A380 to customers, albeit a year late, and move on with a new, mid-sized model.

His reputation rests on doing both.

In the past, the diminutive 59-year-old engineer's management skills were credited not only for the planemaker's dramatic market share growth and bold new projects, but also for shedding its cumbersome consortium structure and pushing through a major cost-savings programme.

Yet it's been a dramatic turn of events since he left Airbus to become one of EADS' two chief executives after an extraordinarily public bid to unseat EADS' top Frenchman and then to have EADS' structure changed to allow him to serve as its only boss.

EADS management sustains a delicate balance of French and German power, and the fiery Frenchman's campaign to replace Philippe Camus as co-CEO contrasted with the smooth transition on the German side, where Thomas Enders succeeded Rainer Hertrich.

Camus and Hertrich had won the respect of investors by managing national rivalries within the firm and making a complex multinational merger work.

Mr Forgeard got off on the wrong foot with his push to be sole boss before backing off in the face of German resistance and reluctantly agreeing to share power with Enders.

In the current crisis, analysts say Mr Forgeard's management of the situation bothers them more than the delay in the A380 itself.