October 2, 2022
Roger Béteille: from Pilot to Airbus Founding Father

Roger Béteille: from Pilot to Airbus Founding Father

DALLAS – Roger Béteille is considered the mastermind behind the major developments that made Airbus the world’s largest commercial airframer.

Béteille was born in Aveyron, France in 1921 and 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 Airbus A300B was launched in 1969. In July 1967, an idea to develop a 300-seater all-new widebody jet came to fruition: Mr. Béteille was appointed as the chief engineer for the A300 program at Sud-Aviation. However, launch customers Lufthansa (LH) and Air France (AF) opted for a smaller plane. So, in 1968, Béteille started working in secret on what would become the A300B.

The A300B then came along, a 250 seater with a hold large enough to accommodate two standard containers side by side. The innovative fuselage cross-section he designed is still in use today on the A330. But more was to come from Béteille.

Photo: Airbus

The Creation of Airbus Industrie

At the turn of the decade, 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. At the time, Béteille said, “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.”

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 take place. 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.

To 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.

Roger Béteille. Photo: Airbus

A Visionary at Airbus

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.

Fly-By-Wire 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 came to an end by retiring as the company’s president. In line with the A350XWB launch in 2012, the final assembly line in Toulouse was named in his honor as the aircraft still uses the systems he introduced over 30 years ago.

Photo: Airbus


Béteille’s success with the use of Fly-By-Wire has enabled Airbus to secure a significant backlog of 7,023 jets (March 2022), of which 6,357, or 91%, were A220 and A320ceo/neo family, all of which use FBW. In February, the company said it expected to deliver 720 commercial aircraft in 2022, up from 611 in 2021, after announcing a record net profit for 2021.

Without this system and the benefits that came with it, Airbus may not have thrived as well as it has done in the last two decades.

As we celebrate World Pilots’ Day, Airways remembers Béteille not only as the visionary that he was, but as the person that spearheaded the success that Airbus currently enjoys.

Featured image: Airbus

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