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Friday, 23 June, 2000, 11:09 GMT 12:09 UK
The Airbus fight to stay ahead
Airbus planes
European airlines join forces to compete with US companies
News that Airbus is to build the world's largest passenger jet is the latest step in the consortium's efforts to challenge US domination of the aviation industry.

Thirty years ago, France's Aerospatiale and Germany's Daimler-Benz Aerospace joined forces to create Airbus, realising that no single European manufacturer had the resources to overcome the US giants.

Airbus history
1969 - Sud Aviation and Deutsche Airbus decide to launch Airbus A300
1970 - creation of Airbus Industrie
1971 - Casa joins Airbus Industrie
1978 - A310 launched (short version of A300)
1979 - British Aerospace becomes fourth Airbus partner
1984 - launch of A320
1987 - A330/A340 programme launched
1989 - A321 launched (extended A320)
A319 launched (short A320)
Launch of A318, smallest Airbus plane
1999 - plans for EADS merger announced
2000 - commercial launch of A3XX
2000 - Airbus consortium to become a corporation
2005 - A3XX to go into service
Then European manufacturers produced only 10% of all commercial aircraft, despite having one quarter of all airline business. Now Airbus can celebrate its 30th birthday in December, revelling in its 50% share of the market for new aircraft.

It has now agreed to transform itself into a private commercial company. France's Aerospatiale Matra, Germany's DaimlerChrysler Aerospace (Dasa), and Spain's Casa are merging to form the European Aerospace, Defence and Space Company (EADS).

The other member of the Airbus group, BAE Systems, was created when British Aerospace acquired the defence business of GEC.

Spain's Casa had joined the consortium in 1971, taking a small stake.

A300 takes flight

In 1972, the consortium's first aircraft, the A300, was launched.

The launch of the A300 was overshadowed by another European innovation - the Franco-British supersonic airliner Concorde.

Airbus's success has been hesitant, with the company finding it difficult to break into the US market. For the first few years, it mainly sold to other state-owned European carriers.

By the end of 1975, Airbus had contracts from three foreign airlines and a total of 55 aircraft on order.

But following this success, the company failed to get another order for 16 months.

In 1976, Eastern Airlines decided to lease A300B4s, a move which persuaded other carriers to place orders as well.

By 1979, the consortium had 256 orders from 32 customers and 81 aircraft in service with 14 operators.

BAE Systems joined the consortium in December 1979, taking a 20% stake. The German and French partners now had a 37.9% stake each and Casa kept its 4.2% stake.

Outnumbered by Boeing

The consortium has delivered 200 A330/A340s and has orders for 400 more. It has expanded its family of aircraft to 16 and has enough orders on its books for the next four years of production.

But Airbus are still outnumbered by Boeings on the world's aircraft stands by six to one.

This situation could improve with the development of the A3XX and its decision to turn itself into a commercial company.

Its commercial operations had previously been hampered by the loose nature of the relationship between the partners, Germany's Deutsche Aerospace, France's Aerospatiale, Britain's British Aerospace and Spain's Casa.

Airbus employs about 40,000 people .

The consortium's success has been dogged by accusations of too generous government subsidies, in a dispute which dogged US-EU trade talks.

Airbus pointed out that the US civil aviation industry benefits from a multitude of government aid as well, notably via military research and development spending.

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