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  • In 1973, a new kind of jet lands in America.

  • It's called... an Airbus, and it's more efficient and technically advanced than any

  • airliner before it.

  • Well I think it's a very big improvement, you know that the widebody concept is more

  • comfortable for passengers

  • In an effort to impress airlines, Airbus sends its new jet to nearly every corner of the world.

  • But few believe this plane has a future.

  • The odd European airliner and Airbus itself are unproven and many doubt that the company

  • will even survive the next few years.

  • Because it's one thing to build a new airliner, and another altogether to take on American

  • giants like Boeing.

  • In the 1950s, Europe introduced jet travel to the world.

  • But whatever lead they may have had in civil aviation was quickly lost.

  • Because by the mid-1960s, the world was flying American.

  • As global demand for long range jets skyrocketed, industry giants like Boeing and McDonnell

  • Douglas seemed virtually unstoppable.

  • By the 1960s, the Americans were building over eighty percent of the world's airliners.

  • In Europe, once iconic aircraft builders struggled.

  • Because none had the scale or resources to compete directly with the Amercians, leaving

  • each to more or less build aircraft for their own countries.

  • And that meant Europe's manufacturers simply weren't selling enough planes to stay competitive.

  • But the solution to Europe's problems was already taking shape in the Concorde.

  • Not the plane, but the way it was being developed; by working together.

  • Concorde was the most ambitious civil aviation project of century, and by teaming up, the

  • French and British achieved what neither could have done alone.

  • But Concorde was largely a politically-motivated project, and it wasn't going to save Europe's

  • aviation industry.

  • Because by the end of the 1960s, cheaper, not faster, was the name of the game.

  • And with air travel booming, what airlines really needed was an efficient jet to move

  • passengers on shorter routes.

  • A large 'people mover', which was already being referred to as an 'air-bus'.

  • Europe's aircraft builders had already sketched concepts for air-buses.

  • But none had ever built a large airliner.

  • Te risks were huge and resources thin.

  • So like the Concorde program, the only way forward was to work together.

  • But this time, on a much larger scale.

  • In 1967, France, Britain and West Germany kicked off the project.

  • And they were soon joined by other European nations.

  • Manufacturers in each country would leverage their expertise.

  • The Germans would build the fuselage.

  • The French would engineer the cockpit and control systems.

  • The wings would be developed by the British and the control surfaces by the Dutch, while

  • Spain would handle the tailplane.

  • It was cooperation on an unprecedented scale.

  • But to compete, the newly formed consortium would also have to build a truly next generation airliner.

  • More efficient and versatile than anything the Americans were building.

  • The first ever Airbus would be a plane that airlines couldn't afford to ignore.

  • Because the A300 would simultaneously haul more passengers and cargo, thanks to its widebody

  • configuration and raised cabin floor.

  • A supercritical wing would improve efficiency and allow it to out-climb any other airliner.

  • And the A300 would use composite materials in it's construction.

  • The first ever on an airliner.

  • And feature a host of new automation and safety features.

  • But what really set the Airbus apart were the engines.

  • There were just two of them, when every other American jet of this size had three or four.

  • It meant the A300 would be inherently more efficient and easier to maintain.

  • And to get the A300 built, Airbus pulled off an extraordinary feat of logistics.

  • With Europe's manufacturers scattered across the continent, components would have to be

  • shipped by land, sea and air.

  • Often from more than a thousand kilometers away, arriving just in time for final assembly.

  • But by the time the first Airbus debuted, the challenge wasn't building the plane,

  • it was getting airlines to buy it.

  • Because, Airbus had only sold a handful of jets.

  • The new company and its twin engine widebody were unproven.

  • And nowhere was the skepticism more intense than in America, where foreign products were

  • not only seen as bad investments, but bad publicity.

  • So, in a bold move, Airbus decided that the best way to convince airlines, was to have

  • the plane prove itself.

  • In 1973, Airbus sent an A300 directly to the Americas.

  • On board were a slick sales team, engineers and tonnes of the finest champagne available.

  • Over the next six weeks the plane embarked on an unprecedented sales tour.

  • Performing nearly forty demonstration flights for dozens of Airlines.

  • Well I think it's a very big improvement, you know that the widebody concept is more

  • comfortable for passengers.

  • And we are offering now to the medium-range passenger, the same comfort that they can

  • reach in the long-range wide-body

  • And if there were any doubts that Airbus was determined to break into the American market

  • , the A300 had been designed using imperial units, not Europe's metric system.

  • The operating language wasn't French or German, it was English.

  • And powering the A300 were American built General Electric Turbofans.

  • In fact, one third of the aircraft's value was made up of American made components

  • This plane should've impressed American Airline execs.

  • It didn't.

  • All the demonstration flights in the world couldn't change the fact that many doubted

  • Airbus's future.

  • A Boeing Vice president dismissed the A300 as a typical government program, predicting

  • that Airbus would only sell a dozen or so planes before going out of business.

  • And it wasn't a far fetched prediction.

  • Between December 1975 and May of 1977, Airbus couldn't sell a single jet.

  • A global recession and oil crisis ground the company's sales effort to a standstill.

  • Completed A300s sat unsold and there were calls to stop production altogether.

  • It was starting to look like the entire Airbus initiative had failed.

  • The A300 is our biggest new investment. It's quiet, fuel-efficient, and specious.

  • But if our crew doesn't make you feel comfortable, it won't what plane you fly. I fly Eastern…”

  • In probably the sweetest deal in airline history, Airbus gave away four of it A300's for free.

  • In 1977, America's Eastern Airlines was allowed to try the jets at no cost for six months.

  • The move... was nothing short of genius.

  • Because the A300 quickly proved to be more reliable, easier to maintain and at least

  • twenty percent more efficient than anything in Eastern's fleet.

  • Thoroughly impressed with the A300's performance, and spurred by Airbus's deal-making Eastern

  • Airlines ordered 23 jets at a cost of $778 million.

  • The single largest American order for foreign aircraft in history.

  • Airbus's gamble paid off.

  • With a major American Airline operating the A300, Airbus earned credibility and the plane

  • earned a reputation for it's high performance standards and reliability.

  • And in 1977, the A300 became the first twin-engine airliner allowed to fly beyond the FAA's

  • decades-old 60 minute ETOPs rule.

  • The extension increased the A300's versatility, opening up a new market for

  • longer range versions of the jet.

  • And with an improving global economy in the late 1970s, Airbus's efficient jet finally

  • caught on.

  • By the 1980s, hundreds of orders had been placed from around the world.

  • The A300's innovations would go on to influence a new generation of airliners, and it's

  • twin-engine configuration would soon become the standard.

  • But for Airbus, the A300 was more than just an airliner.

  • With multinational partnerships, a sophisticated supply chain and a technology driven design

  • philosophy in place, the groundwork was now set for the company's meteoric rise.

  • Airbus changed the landscape of aviation forever, but if you're interested in learning about

  • what comes next.

  • What transportation might look like in the next 20 to 30 years, check out 'Dream the Future'.

  • An incredible nineteen-part series examining how technology will revolutionize the way we live.

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Why Airbus Nearly Didn’t Happen: The A300 Story

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    joey joey posted on 2021/05/30
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