Why Airbus Nearly Didn’t Happen:
The A300 Story
In 1974, Boeing vice president Jim Austin described the Airbus A300 as “a typical government airplane” of which “they’ll build a dozen or so and then go out of business.” He wasn’t alone in his criticism. And he was almost right.
Airbus began a decade earlier as an ambitious effort to stop the Americans from completely taking over the global aviation industry. Boeing and McDonnell Douglas together were building over 80% of the world’s jetliners. And soon, they would be joined by Lockheed.
All three manufacturers were introducing new state-of-the-art wide-body airliners that would revolutionize air travel in the 1970s by offering increased comfort and efficiency. Europe’s aircraft build stood little chance at competing. Unless they worked together.
By the mid-1960s plans were underway to build a truly European airliner. One that would involve the continent’s leading manufacturers. It wasn’t the first attempt at European cooperation (the French and British had already joined efforts to build Concorde), but nothing on this scale had ever attempted. The Europeans would build a new kind of airliner, a purpose-build, short to medium range ‘people mover’, which was increasingly being described as an ‘air bus’. The new plane would be highly optimized for efficiency by using the latest technologies and state of the art materials. It would feature just two turbofan engines, when the soon to be introduced American wide-bodies would have three or four. It meant Europe’s jet would offer increased fuel economy and lower maintenance. It would be called the A300.