Airbus began with a bold descision to challenge American domination of the skies. Today, 35 years later, it is one of
the largest airline manufacturers in the world.
Airbus was officially formed in 1970 as a consortium of France’s Aerospatiale and Deutsche Airbus,
a grouping of leading German aircraft manufacturing firms. Together the companies had decided to build the A300, the first
twin-engine widebody airliner, to fill a gap in the market and to challenge American supremacy in the aviation industry. Shortly
afterwards Spain’s CASA joined the consortium and in 1974 the Airbus Industrie GIE, as it was known – Groupe d’Intérêt
Economique – moved its headquarters from Paris to Toulouse.
British Aerospace joined Airbus Industrie in 1979.
Each of the four partners, known as Airbus France, Airbus Deutschland, Airbus UK and Airbus España, operated as national companies
with special responsibilities for producing parts of the aircraft, to be transported to Toulouse for final assembly. The GIE
provided a single face for sales, marketing and customer support.
Airbus developed a deserved reputation for innovation
and for listening to the needs of its customers. As Airbus’ success took hold with the A300/A310 Family, the A320 Family
– with its landmark fly-by-wire technology which established commonality as key appeal of Airbus aircraft – and
the long-range A330/A340 Family, the need to streamline operations to meet growing demand increased. The drive towards closer
working across national boundaries also intensified as the practical benefits became clear: better quality, faster production,
reduced costs and a workforce which felt part of an international family. So, in 2001, Airbus became a single fully integrated
company. The European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS), a merger of the French, German and Spanish interests, acquired
80 per cent of the shares and BAE SYSTEMS, the successor to British Aerospace, 20 per cent .
An Airbus A310
Another bold step in the evolution of Airbus was taken in 2004, by which time
the company had overtaken its main rival by delivering more aircraft and by securing more orders. In a major reorganisation,
designed to equip the company to maintain its lead in the industry, Centres of Excellence were set up to simplify and unify
the design and production management processes. Each CoE is responsible for specific parts of the aircraft and has its own
chain of decision-making and command.
Before Airbus started the A380 project, Airbus and Boeing had worked together on a project investigating
a very large commercial airliner, one with over 600 seats. Both companies issued various statements, but in the end they decided
there was only room for one maker to be profitable in the 600 to 800 seat market. Both knew the risk of splitting a niche
market; the simultaneous debut of the Lockheed L-1011 and the McDonnell-Douglas DC-10 had demonstrated this: either aircraft
could technically fill the gap between the Douglas DC-8 and the Boeing 747, but the market could only sustain one of the two
and eventually Lockheed left the civil airliner market. However, Airbus and Boeing decided to enter the new 600 seat
market each in their own ways.
Boeing had the upper hand. Even though it was built in the 1960s, their 747 was more popular than Airbus'
largest jet, the A340. Many airlines bought the 747 for their long-haul routes rather than the A340.
A Lufthansa Boeing 747-400. The 747 was the world's largest passenger aircraft until the
A380 came along.
Boeing was considering building a larger commercial aircraft. They also considered lengthening the hump
on the top of the 747 for more passenger room.
Development of the A380, then known as the A3XX, began in 1994. It was rebranded the A380 in 2001, with
the announcement of Singapore Airlines as their launch customer.
A sleeping area or lounge on board the A380. Passengers will be able to enjoy comforts
more suited to cruise ships than commercial airplanes.
Airbus decided to proceed with the $10 billion A380 project in 1999. The first A380 prototype was unveiled
at a ceremony in Toulouse, France, on January 18th, 2005.
The prototype took off from runway 32L of Blagnac International Airport in Toulouse. with a flight
crew of six, carrying 20 tons of flight test instrumentation and water ballasts.
The crew consisted of French test pilots Jacques Rosay (captain for the take-off and the initial part of the test
flight) and Claude Lelaie (captain for the second part of the test flight including the landing). Engineers included
three flight test engineers (Spanish, French, and German), and one French test flight engineer. With the recent Franco-German
controversy over the leadership of EADS still fresh in mind, Airbus issued a statement to make it clear that the crew
had been chosen based not on nationality but competence.
The take-off weight of the aircraft was 421 tonnes (464 short tons), or about 75 % of ts maximum take-off weight for commercial
flights. This was the heaviest take-off weight of any passenger airliner ever created.
After take-off, the jet headed west toward the Bay of Biscay, then south over the northern Pyrenees Mountains and concluded
with a low altitude fly-by over the town of Toulouse. The 233 minute flight involved conducting tests on its engines, hydraulics
and electronics, while the on-board test equipment recorded measurements for 150,000 different parameters and sent data back
to computers on the ground.
Airbus initially planned about 15 months of flight testing, but shortly after the first flight they acknowledged that the
airplane would not be ready for formal certification and commercial use until near the end of 2006, resulting in delays of
6 months or more for initial contracted deliveries.
On October 18th, 2005, the second A380 took to the skies. The flight, taking off and landing at Toulouse, was to test performance
at cruising height and fuel consumption of the Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engines.
In November 2005 the 3rd A380 took off for the first time in Toulouse.
In mid November 2005, the A380 embarked on a tour of South-east Asia and Australia, partly as a promotion, and partly as
part of its long-haul flight testing. The aircraft flew from Singapore to Brisbane on the 12th, then on to Sydney on
the 13th, performing a public flypast over the harbour on its arrival. The plane then flew to Melbourne on the 14th
and returned to Brisbane for Qantas' 85th anniversary celebration on the 15th. John Travolta, who is Qantas' ambassador, was
present at the celebration and managed to take the A380 on a joy ride from Brisbane Airport, flying over the Gold Coast and
back. Following the celebrations, the A380 flew to Kuala Lumpur on the 16th before returning back to France on the 17th. On
these flights, colours of various airlines were applied - Singapore Airlines, Qantas and Malaysia Airlines - in addition to
the house colours.
On 19th November 2005 an A380 flew in full Emirates colors at the 2005 Dubai air show, giving 450 VIP passengers a ride
as it flew low over the Dubai waterfront.
The A380 made its first transatlantic flight, to Olaya International Airport, Medellin, Columbia, on 10th
January 2006 to test engine performance at altitude.
The A380 at the "A380 Reveal" event in Toulouse
So far, there have been a total of 149 A380 orders. Airbus predicts that there will be about 1200 A380s in operation by
about 2020. The A380 will enter service in late 2006.