By Patrick Mondout
As the Americans were dominating the jet age with their Boeing
707s, 727s, DC-8s,
and Douglas DC-9s, the
Europeans decided they had to band together to gain back market share.
Both Air France and British
European Airways had a need for a high-density, short-to-medium range
jet and three were on the drawing boards of American manufacturers (747,
DC-10 and L-1011). The
British and French were working successfully on the Concorde
and began drafting plans for what would be called the HBN100. Would the
Europeans be able to compete?
The Europeans took the cooperation one step further on September 26,
1967 by announcing that the British, French and West Germans would work
together to develop what would be the first in a long line of Airbus
aircraft: the A300. The A300 was based on the work done at Hawker Siddeley
and Breguet and Nord on the HBN100.
On March 1, 1969, the British government, unhappy that GE engines had
been selected instead of Rolls-Royce, announced they were pulling out of
the Airbus consortium. The A300 then officially became the A300b. Private
British aerospace company Hawker-Siddeley later stepped in to take the
place of the British government (though the British government eventually
bargained themselves back in). Eventually, Fokker of Holland and CASA of
Spain would be included too.
The A300B1 prototype took to the skies for the first time on October
28, 1972 in Toulouse, France. It was the only of the four new wide-body
jets to use only two engines. With an OPEC-fueled rise in gas prices just
around the corner, the economy of a two engine plane was about to become a
While the A300 was an advancement in many ways, it was the last of the
four widebodies to enter the marketplace. European airlines - many of
which were owned by the same countries financing Airbus - were quick to
put the large jets into service, but Airbus initially had trouble selling
them outside of Europe.
Excitement over a sale to America's Western Airlines quickly diminished
when it fell through early in 1977. Eastern
Airlines, however, borrowed four A-300s for a six-month trial later
that year. Eastern's Frank Borman was impressed with the fuel economy of
the A300 (it used up to one-third less fuel than the L-1011s that he was
flying). In early 1978, Borman agreed to purchase 23 of the new jets. This
was the commercial breakthrough Airbus needed; a major American airline
would be flying the European plane.
With the consolidation of aircraft manufacturers in the United States
(McDonnell-Douglas merged with Boeing in the late 1990s), the battle for
commercial aerospace supremacy it is now a two horse race between Boeing