Japan's two international airlines, which are the world's biggest carriers outside America, have snubbed the new A380 superjumbo in a crushing blow to the European manufacturer Airbus.
All Nippon Airways (ANA) and Japan Airlines (JAL) are the leading users of the Boeing 747 jumbo jet, which the A380 is intended to replace, and are regarded as a make-or-break market for the new aircraft.
As recently as last week, senior Airbus executives were saying they expected to sell the A380 to Japan, claiming that the plane could be packed with 900 seats on busy domestic routes between Tokyo and Kyoto or Sapporo.
But the two airlines have resisted intense pressure from Airbus to sign up for the A380. ANA's chief executive, Yoji Ohashi, this weekend ruled out a purchase before 2010, saying he intended to stick to the company's existing long-haul fleet of Boeing 747s and 777s.
Keisuke Okada, ANA's corporate planning director, criticised the design of the superjumbo, saying larger aircraft created too many problems at airports: "Already, when I take a ride on a 747, I have to wait a long time to board - it's a crazy stress." He said baggage handling was frequently "chaos" when jumbo jets, which carry more than 560 people on domestic routes in Japan, arrived en masse.
Experts said failure in Japan leaves the Toulouse-based manufacturer with an uphill struggle to break even on the A380 - to the dismay of the British government, which provided £500m of "soft loans" for the project which are only repayable if the plane makes a profit.