• Friday, November 15, 2019

Almost A Failure: How Airbus Nearly Didn’t Happen

Discussion in 'Technology & Science' started by dexter, Aug 13, 2019.

  1. dexter

    dexter SENIOR MEMBER

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    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.

    France, Britain, West Germany, the Netherlands and Spain would each manufacturer portions of the plane for final assembly in Toulouse France. The logistics alone were a spectacular feat. But getting the new Airbus built would actually prove to be the easy part. Convincing the world to take a chance on a completely unproven manufacturer offering an unconventional twin-engine wide-body was another matter altogether. And to make matters worse, the new Airbus A300 debuted in the early 1970s, just in time for a global recession and oil crisis which put a near halt to airplane purchases by airlines.

    But the A300 eventually caught on, thanks to perseverance and crafty deal-making by Airbus. By the end of the 1970’s the global economy had recovered, but fuel prices had not. The highly efficient twin-engine wide-body found its place in the market. But for Airbus, the A300 was just the beginning. With multinational partnerships in place and a sophisticated supply chain, the groundwork was set for the company’s truly meteoric rise.
     
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