Airbus was formed on 18th December 1970 by a pair of European aerospace firms backed by France, Germany, and the UK. The new manufacturer long had plans for a new widebody aircraft, known as the A300. So why did making a new aircraft require the formation of Airbus?
The A300 made its first flight in 1972, marking the beginning of Airbus’s successful aircraft line. Photo: Getty Images
Airbus was formed as a direct response to the dominance of US aerospace firms in the post-World War 2 commercial aviation space. Companies like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and McDonnell Douglas were leading in terms of sales and new aircraft types, with European firms lagging behind.
However, a few European countries decided that it would be best to merge their major manufacturers into one. Given the formation of the European Economic Community (the EU’s predecessor), a merger was feasible and a good way to ensure the continent had its own robust aviation ecosystem.
Henri Ziegler was one of the founders of Airbus and served as the firm’s first President. Photo: Getty Images
The deal between France, Germany, and the UK saw the formation of Airbus, created by merging Aérospatiale and Deutsche Airbus in 1970. However, the A300 has its roots a few years even before this.
Even before the negotiations to form a joint European firm was complete, the ministers from the three major countries were working on making a new aircraft. In particular, Germany, France, and the UK identified a market for a twin-engine, widebody aircraft, seating around 250.
In September 1967, the trio agreed to collaborate on such an aircraft, which came to be known as the A300 program. Henri Zeigler was the general manager of the program, while Roger Béteille led technical development. The pair went on to become the founding fathers of Airbus a few years later. In 1969, the A300 was formally unveiled by France and Germany.
Air France was an early adopter of the A300, not surprising given the politics before the plane’s formation. Photo: Getty Images
After months of working on the project, it became clear that bringing together the European firms was the most cost-effective way to develop the A300 and compete with US giants. However, convincing all three nations was not easy. The UK government withdrew in 1969 due to a fear of huge losses, while France threatened to pull out due to their largest share of investment.
Despite all the political tensions, France and Germany decided to form ‘Airbus,’ with each country’s firm owning 50% of the company. The flagship program for the new company was the A300, a widebody aircraft that was set to be one of the technologically advanced in the world.
A300 is still in operation today with a few carriers and by scores of cargo operators as the A300-600. Photo: Airbus
The A300 was set to be a ground-breaking aircraft and had new features such as composite materials. From then, the rest is history, with Airbus going on to become of the world’s largest jet makers.
What do you think about the A300 program’s history? Let us know in the comments!
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