Airbus: the construction of a European aeronautics giant


On the occasion of our day: Being European, the economic journal is interested this morning in a European competence: transport. Airbus, symbol of European industry, model of collaboration between different countries: France, Germany, Great Britain and Spain.
When the first studies to create a large capacity aircraft were launched in 1966 by France,

Great Britain, and Germany, it was above all a question of taking advantage of the know-how of each country to build the most competitive aircraft. possible. Notably that of the English in the field of jet engines with the company Rolls-Royce.
As for Germany, following its defeat after the Second World War. Its development in aeronautics remains very limited. It is considered a war industry.

This new European cooperation will therefore give it a new opportunity to develop. But when the study project was definitively validated by the French government in 1968, things were far from certain.

At the same time, other programs are being developed. Starting with the Concorde which will be the first civil supersonic aircraft. Mercury tracking a medium-haul aircraft developed by the French Dassault, supported by Jacques Chirac then budget minister.

Costly programs economically speaking. Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, then Minister of Finance, indicates that choices will have to be made. It was therefore finally decided to keep the Concorde and the Mercury, and not Airbus.

The events of May 68 and the dissolution of the national assembly will reshuffle the cards. A new Airbus project which better meets the expectations of airlines is presented and validated by General Charles de Gaulle in 1969 before his departure. It was not until 1974 that the first Airbus A300 was marketed. At its head is Roger Béteille, who is the true founding father of Airbus.

But without the English from Rolls-Royce who in the meantime have won a contract to equip the American Lockheed 1011, which will have 3 engines. Like its American competitor the DC 10. While in the meantime the European aircraft manufacturer has had to fall back for its reactors on the American group General Electric. Which is far from being a detail. Because these devices consume a lot of fuel and are therefore less competitive for airlines.

As George Ville explains to us, responsible for the development of the Airbus program at the Air Ministry between 1964 and 1974. and today a member of the Air and Space Academy. :

The twin engine is the most efficient solution in terms of mileage consumption per seat, i.e. the operational efficiency of the aircraft.”

However, if technically the A300 is recognized for its technical qualities, its sales are having a hard time taking off. Because American manufacturers who have a greater variety of models with long-haul and medium-haul vehicles continue to dominate the global market.
Thus, in 1976, the Airbus A300 recorded only 33 firm orders. European aviation is also suffering from the oil crisis.

The Airbus A320, the plane that will make Airbus a world leader

With the democratization of the plane and the development of the medium-haul market, Airbus and its European partners will finally experience a turning point which will cause its sales to take off around the world.

Indeed, even if at the beginning of the 1980s, Germany did not want to hear about a single European corridor. To the extent that its national airline Lufthansa already operates Boeing 737s with which it is very satisfied. France, Great Britain, and Spain finally managed to convince her. This is how the A320 was launched in 1984. Which will be marketed in 1988.
To make it competitive and reduce its costs, each partner develops part of the aircraft, to be assembled in Toulouse in France.

Like England, which will specialize in the wings. Major parts that the United Kingdom continues to provide today despite Brexit.

An aircraft which will also be more modern and which will consume less fuel than its competitor the Boeing 737, whose architecture dates from the end of the 1960s. And which will have the particularity of having electric flight controls for the first time.
With also a greater share given to automation to relieve pilots.

This will not prevent two fatal accidents at the start of its launch: the crash of an Air France demonstration flight on June 26, 1988 near Mulhouse which left 3 dead and that of Mont Saint-Odile on January 20, 1992 which will leave 87 dead.
Difficult beginnings which did not prevent the A320 from becoming today the best-selling commercial aircraft in the world ahead of its eternal rival the Boeing 737.


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