MIAMI — The Airbus A300 celebrated its fortieth anniversary since first delivery over the weekend. The very first of the twin-jet was delivered on May 14, 1974 to Air France.
The jet was Airbus’ first foray into the world of passenger air travel. Then a more loosely associated amalgam of European aerospace firms, the company began leveraging the considerable skills the multiple firms had to hatch a bold, new product. While American firms were peddling twin-aisle tri-jets like the DC-10 and L-1011, Airbus saw an opportunity to create a more economical jet of similar size.
Thus the company set about creating the world’s first twin-aisle twin-engined jet. It was decided early on that the airplane would feature heavy innovations in tech to appeal to the future of air travel, never mind cost-savings. Thus the jet was one of the first to utilize extensive composite pieces in its structure to reduce weight. Between that, the reduction of an engine, and other changes the airplane was to cut operating costs by twenty-five percent. Though it initially began as a three person flight deck crew airplane, by 1982 the jet was the first to have a glass cockpit and two-man crew, cutting costs even further.
Despite the technological innovation, the jet sold poorly for the first several years. The airplane was marketed as a short/medium-haul widebody, but it quickly ran it problems with short haul. The increased capacity for initial carriers on short haul routes led to decreased frequency, which helped bleed off passengers to airlines that offered frequency instead. Worse, the FAA, which even then was considered the de facto aviation decision making body worldwide, was wary of the safety of twin-engine jets. American carriers were likewise wary of safety concerns on top of loyalty to the existing American manufacturers.
Consequently the jet booked a handful of orders from inception through 1975. Things looked bleak when the airplane booked nearly zero orders from 1975 through 1976, forcing production down to one jet every two months. Calls from within the company to shutter production and call it a day began increase.
The tide turned, however, for the A300 family in the same year, when Airbus loaned four of the airplanes to Eastern Airlines on a trial basis. The jets made a good impression, in particular its fuel savings, and led to then CEO Frank Borman placing an order for 23 of the jet. Pan Am followed not long after, and the jet quickly grew in popularity. Despite its initial goal of fulfilling short and medium haul routes, later versions went on to earn a 180 minute ETOPs rating, and the jet became popular on over-water heavy US-Caribbean and Asia-Pacific routes.
About half of one dozen variations were created over the years, including the A310 and freighter versions. It was the cargo jet which became popular with freight operator FedEx, who at one point had over 70 of the airplanes in its fleet. Other notable operators over the years include American, Japan Airlines, Lufthansa, and Thai.
Ultimately, the line was shuttered in 2007 after a 35-year run, the first Airbus product to end production. A testament to a quality product, over half of the 878 A300 and A310 aircraft produced remain in service today.