Airbus founding father, Roger Béteille passed away on June 14 at the age of 97. Born in Aveyron, France in 1921, Béteille is considered the mastermind behind most of the big developments that have made Airbus the world’s second-largest commercial aviation manufacturer.
Béteille studied at Supáero in Toulouse before joining SNCASE in 1943, known as Sud Aviation.
By 1945, he had received his pilot’s license, before becoming a flight test engineer for Sud in 1952, being on the test team for the Caravelle’s first flight.
The Paris Air Show 2019, together with Airbus, celebrated the manufacturer’s 50th anniversary. The Airbus A300B was launched in 1969, which is the link behind this celebration.
In July 1967, however, an idea to develop a 300-seater all-new widebody jet came to fruition. Mr. Béteille, at the time, was appointed as the chief engineer for the A300 program at Sud Aviation. However, launch customers Lufthansa and Air France opted for a smaller aircraft.
The A300B then came in, offering a capacity of 250 passengers and with an innovative fuselage.
Béteille and the first production director of Airbus, Felix Kracht, drew up the workshare, which is what we see today as the Airbus European Production System that is still used by the company.
“I wanted to use all the available talents and capacities to their utmost without worrying about the color of the flag or what language was spoken,” Béteille said at the time.
Through this workshare and the grouping of economic interests, Airbus Industrie was created in 1970, with Béteille becoming the new senior vice president of engineering.
Béteille pushed for the headquarters of Airbus to be close to the Toulouse Final Assembly Line so then customers could see the aircraft in production.
1972 saw the first flight of the A300B occur. Even during the OPEC Oil Crisis in the 1970s, Béteille’s understanding of global customers enabled the securing of its first U.S. customer, Eastern Airlines, in 1977.
On the understanding of customers, Béteille was never the one for optimism or confidence. “I was convinced that Airbus would never take off with a single aircraft. Potential customers would wonder if we’d still be around in ten or 20 years’ time.”
In 1984, Béteille achieved his lifelong dream of managing the formal launch of the A320.
The reason why Béteille was a visionary at Airbus was because of his instrumental input into the famous Fly-By-Wire (FBW) controls that we see today. Thanks to this, it increased flight safety and also began the process of cockpit commonality and cross-crew qualification for pilots, which is something that Airbus continues to boast about today.
In 1985, Béteille’s career at Airbus comes to an end by retiring as the company’s president.
By 2012 however, in line with the A350XWB launch, the final assembly line in Toulouse was named in his honor as the aircraft still uses the systems he introduced over 30 years ago.
Béteille’s success with the use of Fly-By-Wire has enabled Airbus to secure a significant backlog today of 7,207 aircraft as of May 2019, which are all on aircraft using FBW.
Without this system and the benefits that came with it, Airbus may not have thrived as well as it has done in the last ten to twenty years.
Airbus will remember Béteille most definitely for the visionary he was, but also as the person that spearheaded the success that it currently sees to what may be in store going into the future.