The Dummies Guide to Airbus

A Manufacturer's History

The Airbus A300
••• Photo courtesy of Airbus

Airbus and Boeing are the world’s largest commercial aircraft manufacturers.  Boeing’s history goes back to the beginning of the 20th century in the early days of aviation. But Airbus is considerably younger, making its ascent all the more impressive.

The History

At a meeting in July 1967, ministers from France, Germany, and Britain agreed “to take appropriate measures for the joint development and production of an Airbus.” The move was made after the three countries realized that without a joint aircraft development and production program, Europe would be left trailing in the wake of the Americans, who dominated the industry.

On May 29, 1969, at the Paris Air Show, France’s Transport Minister Jean Chamant sat down with German economics minister Karl Schiller in the mock-up of a cabin of a new aircraft and signed an agreement officially launching the A300, the world’s first twin-engine widebody passenger jet and the formal start of the Airbus program.

Airbus’s formal creation happened on December 18, 1970, when Airbus Industrie was officially created with partners France’s Aerospatiale and Germany’s Deutsche Airbus, initially based in Paris and then moving to Toulouse.

The first flight of the A300 took place in Toulouse on October 28, 1972. The company persuaded former Apollo astronaut Frank Borman, CEO of Eastern Airlines to take four A300s “on lease” for six months and then decide whether to buy.

After the six-month trial, Borman ordered 23 A300B4s with nine options in March 1978, the first contract Airbus signed with a U.S. customer.

This followed with more orders, and by the end of the decade, Airbus said it had delivered 81 A300s to 14 airlines, serving 100 different cities in 43 countries.

The company looked into building a single-aisle twin jet to compete with the successful Boeing 737. In June 1981 at the Paris Air Show, Air France gave the A320 program a huge boost with an order of 25, along with 25 options despite the jet not being officially launched until March 1984.

On the A320’s launch day, Airbus announced more than 80 firm orders from five launch customers -- British Caledonian, Air France, Air Inter, Cyprus Airways and Inex Adria of then Yugoslavia. it also managed to win an order from its second U.S. customer, Pan Am.

Airbus then moved to build the medium to long-range A330 twin and longer-range A340 four-engine aircraft; both were launched in June 1987. Next, in March 1993, Airbus had the first flight of the longer single aisle, twin-engine jet the A321, a competitor to Boeing’s 757. Three months later, the manufacturer launched the 124-seat A319, then a few years later, the 107-seat A318 was launched.

In June 1994, Airbus announced plans to build the world’s biggest passenger jet -- able to carry 525 people in a three-class configuration -- the double-decker Airbus A380. On December 19, 2000, Airbus officially launched the jumbo jet, with 50 firm orders and 42 options from six of the world’s major operators -- Air France, Emirates, International Lease Finance Corporation, Qantas, Singapore Airlines and Virgin Atlantic.

The A380’s first flight took place in Toulouse on April 27, 2005, for a flight lasting three hours and 54 minutes. The aircraft went into commercial service on October 25, 2007, on Singapore Airlines.

On December 10, 2004, the Airbus board gave the green light to launched the all-new A350, designed to compete with the Boeing 777 and 787. But it was a challenge bringing the aircraft to market. The A350 was originally designed to complement Airbus’ existing A330-200 and A330-300 jetliners.

After a redesign to address customer concerns, Airbus launched the revamped A350 XWB (extra widebody) on December 1, 2006.

In March 2007, Finnair was the first airline to order the A350 XWB. That order was followed by orders and commitments from airlines and leasing companies in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia-Pacific, as well as North and South America – along with launch customer Qatar Airways. The test and certification programme for the A350 XWB kicked into full gear on June 14, 2013. when the first model conducted its maiden flight from France’s Toulouse-Blagnac Airport.

Among the highlights in 2014 was the December 22 delivery of the first A350 XWB to Qatar Airways, the maiden flight of Airbus’ A320neo (new engine option) jetliner and the launch of the A330neo version during London’s Farnborough Airshow.

During the 2015 Paris Air Show, Airbus won $57 billion worth of business for a total of 421 aircraft  -- firm orders for 124 aircraft worth $16.3 billion and commitments for 297 aircraft worth $40.7 billion. As of June 30, 2015, the French manufacturer has 816 orders for the A300/310 family, 11,804 orders for the A320 family, 2,628 orders for the A330/A340/A350 XWB family and 317 orders for the A380, for a total of 15, 619 aircraft.

History courtesy of Airbus