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History of Airbus
On May 29, 1969, French Transport Minister Jean Chamant and German Economics Minister Karl Schiller sat down at the Paris Air Show in a mock-up cabin of a new aircraft. The two politicians then signed an agreement officially launching the Airbus A300, the world’s first twin-engine, wide-body passenger jet. It was to be built by a Franco-German consortium which would also involve the British and the Dutch (and ultimately the Spanish).
However, Airbus had actually been born two years earlier following a meeting of ministers from France, Germany and Britain who agreed “for the purpose of strengthening European co-operation in the field of aviation technology and thereby promoting economic and technological progress in Europe, to take appropriate measures for the joint development and production of an airbus.”
French engineer, Roger Béteille, was appointed technical director of the A300 programme and Henri Ziegler, President of Sud Aviation, was later named General Manager of what would become Airbus Industrie, with German politician, Franz-Josef Strauss, becoming Chairman of the supervisory board. These men were to become known as the ‘fathers’ of Airbus, along with German engineer Felix Kracht, who had been working for Nord Aviation and took on the role of production director –overseeing and co-ordinating the job of building the A300.
The original plan was for the French to produce the cockpit, the control systems and the lower centre section of the fuselage, the Germans would make the forward and rear fuselage sections, plus the upper part of the centre section with Hawker Siddeley in the UK manufacturing the wings. The Dutch were to craft the moving parts of the wing – such as flaps and spoilers – and the Spanish, who would become a full partner in 1971, would build the horizontal tailplane.
From the start, there was unrest between the participating countries. The French were unhappy about helping finance three aircraft types – Aérospatiale Concorde, Dassault Mercure and Airbus – while the United Kingdom was unhappy about funding an aircraft without Rolls-Royce engines (the original aircraft was to use RB211s, but the company had at the time contracted to supply the Lockheed TriStar only). Within a few months Britain announced it was pulling out of the Airbus programme. However, the Managing Director of Hawker Siddeley, Sir Arnold Hall, decided his company would stay in as a favoured sub-contractor – enabling it to take part in future board meetings, but without a vote. Hawker Siddeley Aviation invested £35 million in machine tools to design and build the wings – but had to be helped by a loan for a similar amount from the German Government.
The formal setting up of Airbus as a consortium did not take place until December 18, 1970, when Airbus Industrie was officially created as a ‘groupement d’intêrets économique’ (GIE). France’s Aérospatiale (a merger of space company SEREB, Sud Aviation and Nord Aviation), and Germany’s Deutsche Airbus (a grouping of four firms, Messerschmittwerke, Hamburger Flugzeugbau, VFW GmbH and Siebelwerke ATG) each took a 50% stake.
In October 1971 the Spanish company CASA acquired a 4.2% share of Airbus Industrie, with Aérospatiale and Deutsche Airbus reducing its stake to 47.9%. Eight years later, British Aerospace, which had taken over Hawker Siddeley, acquired a 20% share with the majority shareholders reducing their shares to 37.9%.
A consolidation of European defence and aerospace companies in 1999 and 2000 allowed the formation of a simplified joint-stock company – European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS) – in 2001, which owned 80% of Airbus with BAE Systems having the rest. However, the UK company sold its stake (to EADS) in October 2006, although it still provides the wings at its Broughton factory in North Wales. In 2014 EADS was renamed Airbus Group and three years later the name was simplified to Airbus.
The headquarters of Airbus was in Paris initially (1970), but moved to the production site at Toulouse in 1974. Aircraft components were ferried by sea from the UK and Germany to Bordeaux in France and then carried by road to Toulouse (this still happens for parts of the A380). However, to improve transportation, four Boeing ‘Super Guppies’ were bought to carry the wing and fuselage sections of the A300. They were eventually replaced by five A300-600ST (Super Transporter) aircraft, now also known as the BelugaST.
In France, several major components are manufactured and assembled at Airbus sites in Nantes, St Nazaire, and Méaulte before final assembly at Toulouse. In northern Germany, major components are assembled at Augsburg, Bremen, Dresden, Laupheim, Nordenham, Stade, Varel and then taken to the main factory at Hamburg/Finkenwerder. Spain provides parts for the A380 at Getafe, Illescas and Puerto Real, while wings are produced at Broughton. In 2008, Airbus opened a production line for A320 family aircraft at Tianjin in China. While in 2015, the assembly of A320 family aircraft began at a new facility in Mobile, Alabama. Since then the A220 series has also been added to the output of this plant.
Airbus has over 1,500 suppliers and industrial partners in many countries. The company itself employs over 50,000 people.
The A300 first flew in 1972, and entered service with Air France two years later. The initial variant was the B2, followed by the B4, C4 Convertible and F4 Freighter. Then there was the A300-600 which was longer than the earlier models and could carry 361 passengers in a high-density layout, while the -600R had extra range. Conversions of B4 passenger aircraft to freighters was offered from the late 1990s by British Aerospace (now BAE Systems) and DASA Airbus.
The smaller A310 undertook its maiden flight in 1982. The jetliner entered service the following year with joint launch customers Lufthansa and Swissair. Airbus offered the -200C Convertible and -200F Freighter, but neither proved a success with only one of the former delivered and no -200Fs. However, converted passenger examples have been used as freighters. The A310-300 with increased maximum take-off weight and more fuel capacity to enable greater range was given the formal go-ahead in 1983. The A300 and A310 provided Airbus with a good start and solid foundation on which to build.
The next endeavour was the A320 which would challenge the Douglas DC-9 and Boeing 737 and turned out to be a huge success. The new jetliner was launched in 1984, first flew in 1987 and entered service with Air France the following year. One of the main innovations on this narrow-body airliner was the fly-by-wire computer-based flight controls.
The success of the A320 led to it being lengthened in the form of the A321 and also shortened twice, first as the A319 and then the A318. The A319 was the type chosen for the company’s first foray into the business jet arena with the launch of the Airbus Corporate Jet (ACJ). The current portfolio is the ACJ TwoTwenty, ACJ319neo, ACJ320neo, ACJ330neo and ACJ350 XWB.
There has been the A320-100, ’-200 and a new engine option variant referred to as the A320neo was launched in 2011. Two different powerplants are available – the Pratt & Whitney PurePower PW1100G-JM and the CFM International LEAP-1A. The neo also has ‘Sharklet’ winglets as was offered latterly on the standard A320s. The
neo option is also offered on the A319 and A321. Airbus also sells the A321LR variant which has extra range, while the A321XLR will be able to fly even further when it enters service in 2023.
IN FOR THE LONG HAUL
In 1987 Airbus entered the long-haul market with the launch of the four-engine A340 (first flight 1991) and twin-engine A330 (maiden flight 1992). The former had Lufthansa and Air France as launch customers and entered service in 1993 followed by the A330 the following year with first the example going to Air Inter. The A340 was initially available in the form of the -200 and -300 variants, followed by the A340-300E using more powerful CFM56-5C4 engines. The design was stretched to create the A340-600 and then there was the ’-500, which was not as long as the former, but still a 14.1ft stretch of the -300. The A340-500 was at the time the longest-range airliner in the world able to fly 8,650nm (16,020km). The manufacturer continued to develop the designs with the A340-600HGW (High Gross Weight) and A340-500HGW, A330-200HGW and A330-300HGW.
Freighter variants of the A330 have been the A330-200F, while Airbus signed a deal with ST Aerospace of Singapore to launch the A330-300P2F passenger to freighter conversion.
In 2014, Airbus launched the A330neo – consisting of the A330-800 and ’-900. Changes from the earlier models include Rolls-Royce Trent 7000 engines and Sharklet wingtips. The A330-900 undertook its first flight in 2017, with the ’-800 the following year.
The A330 is the basis for the BelugaXL, which will replace the BelugaST, and first flew in 2018 with a fleet of six planned.
The twin-engine A350 first flew in 2013 with launch customer Qatar Airways taking delivery the next year. The A350-900 variant was the first to fly followed by the longer A350-1000.
The massive twin-deck A380 took to the air for the first time in 2005 with first delivery to Singapore Airlines taking place on October 15, 2007. However, a lack of orders forced the manufacturer to announce in 2019 it would end A380 production this year. Only one variant has been produced – the A380-800.
The most recent addition to the Airbus passenger portfolio is the A220. However, the aircraft was originally built by Bombardier in two variants as the CS100 (first flight 2013) and CS300 (maiden flight in 2015). In October 2017, Airbus acquired a majority stake-holding of the CSeries programme and decided to move production to its Mobile, Alabama plant.
NOT JUST AIRLINERS
In 1999 Airbus Military was formed and like the airliner-producing Airbus became part of EADS. The year 2014 saw Eurocopter become Airbus Helicopters. The latter has civil and military helicopters to offer, such as the H130 and H145M respectively.
It was announced in 2013 that Airbus Military would merge with Cassidian and Astrium to form Airbus Defence and Space. The latter’s current portfolio includes the Eurofighter Typhoon, A400M, C295 and CN235 airlifters; A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport and unmanned aerial systems (UAS).
The ATR family of turboprops is also part of the Airbus family and is run as a joint partnership with Leonardo.
The achievements of Airbus can be seen in the deliveries and outstanding orders Airbus has accrued. The European manufacturer in its latest figures to the end of
May 2021 lists four categories of airliner. The A300/A310 achieved 816 sales, while for the A220/A320 families there have been 10,032 aircraft handed over to customers with another impressive 6,144 on order. The long-haul A330, A340 and A350 families have racked up 3,102 orders of which 2,317 have been delivered, while the A380 has amassed 251 orders with four aircraft still to be handed over.
Airbus has grown into a giant of a company that battles it out with Boeing for the majority of the global jetliner market. The company’s founding ‘fathers’ would surely be proud of the present-day Airbus and what it has accomplished.