Today marks the 40th anniversary of the agreement which launched the first ever aircraft programme of Airbus — the A300, which in effect launched the company Airbus.
40 years ago the United States lorded over global civil aviation with giants Boeing, McDonnell Douglas, and Lockheed.
In the mid-1960s, tentative negotiations commenced regarding a European collaborative approach to re-enter the lucrative airliner market. At the 1965 Paris Air Show major European airlines informally discussed their requirements for a new “airbus” capable of transporting 100 or more passengers over short to medium distances at a low cost. Urged by the British government. The Hawker Siddeley/Breguet/Nord groups HBN 100 became the basis for the continuation of the project, and were joined by Sud Aviation (France) and Arbeitsgemeinschaft Airbus, later Deutsche Airbus (Germany).
By early 1967 the “A300” label began to be applied and the proposal developed into a 320 seat, twin engined airliner. On July 25 1967 the three governments agreed to proceed to the definition stage with the mission statement:
“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.”
On May 29, 1969, the French Minister of Transport, Jean Chamant and the German Minister of Economic Affairs, Karl Schiller, signed an agreement for the joint-development of the A300 aircraft, a first European twin-aisle twin-engine jet for medium-haul air travel. This historic event took place during the Paris Air Show at Le Bourget.
The launch of the A300 programme marked the first milestone in Airbus’ successful history and set the foundation of its today’s vision and strategy. The A300 revolutionized the civil aviation sector. Dubbed “the profit machine” the A300 was the first twin-aisle twin-engine medium haul aircraft, which offered for the first time all the amenities and assets of long range aircraft such as a wide-body comfort, low noise levels, low fuel consumption and low operating costs.
Airbus developed its first family of aircraft, the A300/A310 and their respective freighter derivatives. The A300/A310 family set completely new standards that were adopted on all modern civil aircraft later on. The A300 made its maiden flight on 28 October 1972 and the first production model, the A300B2, entered service on 30 May 1974 with Air France.
Indian Airlines was an early adopter of the A300 was the world’s first domestic airline to put the A300 in to service. It received an Airbus A300B2-101 MSN034 on October 31 1976 registration VT-EDV. I still recall with great fondness childhood memories of the classic moaning sound generated by the General Electric CF6-50 engines as the plane took off from runway 09 at the old Bangalore HAL Airport, a sound which we take for granted today but was unique at that time in Bangalore. This plane was unfortunately written off when it made an emergency landing in a field on November 15 1993. The early relationship forged between Airbus and Indian Airlines lives on till today with the airline having an all Airbus fleet replacing it’s ageing Boeing 737s with Airbus A320 family (A319/A320/A321) aircraft.
In total, Airbus had built 822 A300/A310 aircraft, while the original business case only foresaw 300 aircraft to be built. The A300 was delivered to over 80 customers. Over the years, these aircraft have flown more than 30 million flight-hours and have taken off more than 15 million times. Today, more than 620 aircraft are still in operation.