Airbus was established in 1970 as a joint venture between France, Germany and the UK as a way for European manufacturers to counter the huge American aircraft manufacturers.
Its first aircraft off the line was the A300, a 250 seat passenger aircraft that entered the market in 1974. By 1979 there were 256 orders for the A300 but it was the launch of the A320 in 1987 that set the company up as a major player. There were over 400 orders even before the A320 flew.
Today, Airbus employs around 63,000 people at sixteen sites in four countries: France, Germany, Spain, United Kingdom. The final assembly production is based at Toulouse, France; Hamburg, Germany; Seville, Spain; and, since 2009 as a joint-venture, Tianjin, China.
Airbus has been a leader Fly-by-wire technology. Fly by wire is a system that replaces the conventional manual flight controls of an aeroplane with an electronic interface. The movements of flight controls are converted to electronic signals transmitted by wires, and flight control computers determine how to move the actuators at each control surface to provide the correctly ordered response. In addition, the fly by wire system allows automatic signals sent by the aircraft’s computers to perform functions without the pilot’s input e.g systems that automatically help stabilize the aircraft.
Way back in 1988 Airbus embarked on its project for a very high capacity airliner. This was to become the A380 and was eventually launched in October 2007 with Singapore Airlines receiving the first delivery. The A380 can carry up to 853 passengers , has a cabin length of 49.9metres, a wingspan of 79.75 metres, height of 24.45 metres, fuel capacity of 323,000 litres, four engines and range of up to 15,000km. Its a truly awe inspiring machine.
Like the 737 for Boeing, the single aisle A320 is the mainstay of the Airbus family accounting for somewhere between 60%-70% of total sales. The configuration is usually 150-180 seats.
Other popular Airbus models include the A330, A340, twin aisle and twin engine aircraft with capacity for up to 440 passengers.
At present, its likely that we will see the dominance of the two big players in the medium to large passenger aircraft market.