Airbus: A European ConsortiumThe idea of a wide-bodied aircraft designed especially for short-haul air routes germinated during the 1960s in Great Britain and France. First thoughts at the de Havilland plant at Hatfield, England, appear to have occurred at about the same time as those for a Breguet-Nord project in Paris. Joint discussions resulted in a cooperative study for the HBN-100. Breguet-Nord then merged with Sud Aviation (which was working on its Galion) to become Aerospatiale. The joint project became known as the A300, with design leadership centered at Toulouse.
Great Britain and France were at first equal partners, and this was soon modified by the late 1960s to 40% France (Sud), 40% Great Britain (Hawker Siddeley), and 20% Germany (Deutsche Airbus of Munich). The British Government then withdrew its support because the French would not agree to use Rolls-Royce engines. Fortunately for Britain, Hawker Siddeley remained as an important sub-contractor, building the wings, worth about 17% of the total project.
Since then, the British share, held by British Aerospace, has recovered to 20% with additional participation by CASA Spain (4%), with Fokker, (Netherlands), and Belairbus (Belgium) as associates, to make the A300 a genuinely European effort. The General Electric or Pratt & Whitney engines, pods, and pylons are built in the United States so there is a substantial American content.
Tortoise and HareAlthough the Airbus sales teams were convinced of the large potential market, simply because the majority of the world's air passengers fly on short-haul journeys, initial sales were sluggish. Slowly, however, the superior economics of the A300's twin engines against those of either of the trijets, applied to major short-haul markets, began to win customers. During the latter 1970s, sporadic A300 bridgeheads were established all over the world.
By 1980, for the first time, Europe's world percentage of commercial airliner markets went into double figures. Today, with the smaller A310 in service and the larger A320 on the production lines, the Airbus has established a firm foundation to carry the European airliner manufacturing effort successfully into the 21st Century.