Deliveries of the world's biggest passenger plane - the 555-seater Airbus A380 superjumbo - are to be further delayed, prompting a stiff warning from Emirates.

The Dubai-based airline, which has ordered 43 aircraft, yesterday said it had been informed by Airbus of a further ten-month slip in deliveries.

Emirates, which operates twice a day services from Birmingham International Airport, is now considering its options.

Emirates' president Tim Clark said his airline's first A380, whose wings are made in Britain, will not now arrive until August 2008. He added that the additional delay was "a very serious issue" for the carrier.

Sir Richard Branson's airline, Virgin Atlantic, said it had also been told by Toulouse-based Airbus that Virgin's first aircraft, due to be delivered in 2009, will be put back.

The statement by Emirates is the strongest warning yet from the fast-expanding airline, whose A380 orders make up almost a third of the 143 passenger versions ordered so far.

With US airlines still in financial turmoil, the Gulf is one of the big markets to capture along with low-cost carriers in Asia and a cancellation from Emirates would be a potentially serious blow in money and prestige for Europe's jetmaker.

Airbus already faces millions of dollars in delay penalties and could have to take provisions if those rise so high that they push the planemaker's contracts with airlines into loss.

Even before yesterday's news, there were reports that Emirates might cancel some of its orders - something that would be a devastating blow to the A380 programme, which supports thousands of UK jobs.

There has been concern that Airbus could make job cuts in Germany and that the problems could even hit Airbus UK production at Filton in Bristol and Broughton in North Wales.

Problems with the wiring of the sophisticated A380 have already led to boardroom oustings and delays to deliveries.

The latest blow for Airbus comes on top of combined delays of a year which triggered a boardroom crisis at parent firm EADS last June.

It also piled up pressure on the company's board to come up with a recovery plan.

However, any announcement from the firm is unlikely to be forthcoming until later today because of a legally required meeting scheduled with the company's works council and managers.

In Toulouse industry reports say EADS could shift the bulk of A380 production to the French facility.

In compensation, its German factory in Hamburg may take over production of the A320 single-aisle aircraft and play a lead role in building the new A350 mid-sized model which is due to be launched soon.

EADS held an inconclusive session on Friday, sparking reports of differences between Airbus and its owner over the cost of the restructuring need to put the firm back on its feet.

Germany and France are sensitive about the geographical spread of plane production due to the high numbers of jobs involved.

EADS in Hamburg has fought a long battle with environmentalists to extend the plant's runway specifically to be able to take part in the A380 project.

EADS' plans to shed jobs at a maintenance plant in south-west France became a national political issue in the summer, leading to the intervention of Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, who put his weight behind a plan to save the posts.