Valerian Ho recalls the birth of the European aircraft manufacturer
Charting the creation and rise of Airbus, Europe’s answer to Boeing
In the early 20th century, Boeing dominated the aviation industry. But in 1967, the seeds were sown for a European rival.
At a meeting in July, 1967, ministers from France, Germany and Britain agreed “for the purpose of strengthening European cooperation 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.”
Following the meeting, the “fathers” of Airbus were formed. They were French engineer Roger Béteille, who was appointed technical director of the A300 programme; Henri Ziegler, president of Sud Aviation, named general manager of Airbus Industrie; and German politician Franz-Josef Strauss, as the chairman of the supervisory board.
Two years later at Le Bourget airshow, the French transport minister sat down with the German economics minister to review a cabin mock-up of a new A300 aircraft. The two politicians signed an agreement officially launching the A300, which became the world’s first twin-engine widebody passenger jet. The A300 project was the formal starting point of the Airbus programme, and the aircraft finally took off in 1974.
In the early 1980s, Airbus introduced a shorter-fuselage A310 derivative. Later that decade, the single-aisle A320 was launched – one of the most successful aircraft families in history with the A320 and A321 continuing to prove popular in the aviation market today.
The 1990s saw Airbus introducing its long-range A330 and A340 fleet, and in 2007 the 600-seat A380 began commercial operation, competing with Boeing’s legendary B747. To meet evolving market needs, Airbus launched its efficient A350 XWB twin-engine jetliner in January 2015, with Qatar Airways its first customer.
Above: Airbus’s A300B; and interiors of the plane at the Aeroscopia museum in Toulouse