Airbus is one of the largest aircraft manufacturers in the world. The company sells a variety of passenger airplanes to airlines around the world. European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company (EADS) owns 80 percent of Airbus, and Britain’s BAE Systems PLC (formerly British Aerospace) owns the other 20 percent. Airbus’s headquarters is near the city of Toulouse, France.
Airbus Industrie was formed in 1970 to counter the dominance of the commercial aircraft market by United States companies, specifically The Boeing Company, Lockheed Corporation (now Lockheed Martin Corporation), and McDonnell Douglas Corporation (now merged with Boeing). European aircraft companies that lacked the resources to compete against the larger U.S. companies on their own decided to share development costs. Original partners in the consortium were Sud Aviation of France (later Aerospatiale Matra SA) and Deutsche Airbus of West Germany (later DaimlerChrysler Aerospace of Germany; see DaimlerChrysler AG). Construcciones Aeronauticas SA (CASA) of Spain became a partner in 1971, and British Aerospace joined the consortium in 1979.
The first Airbus aircraft, the A300, was a wide-body twin-engine jet that accommodated up to 250 passengers. In 1971 Air France ordered six A300s, becoming Airbus’s first customer. Initially Airbus had difficulty marketing the airplane outside the consortium’s member countries, but the 1973 world oil crisis sparked new interest in the fuel-efficient A300. The plane entered service in 1974. By 1975 airlines had ordered more than 40 A300 planes. In 1978 Airbus launched a smaller version, called the A310. By the early 1980s Airbus had surpassed McDonnell Douglas and Lockheed and ranked only behind Boeing in the production of commercial jets.
In 1984 Airbus introduced the A320, the first aircraft with fully computerized cockpit controls. The A320 became the fastest-selling jet in aviation history. In 1987 Airbus launched two larger models, the A330 and A340, with capacities of up to 380 passengers. As Airbus became more successful, it came under harsh criticism from U.S. jet makers, who charged that the company’s government subsidies allowed it to price planes lower. Airbus posted its first operating profit in 1991.
In 1996 Boeing and McDonnell Douglas announced that they would merge into one company, a development that prompted Airbus to consider changing its corporate structure. To increase efficiency and competitiveness, the four Airbus partners agreed to transform the consortium into a centralized company operating under a single management team. The European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company (EADS) was created in 1999 from the merger of three partners in the Airbus consortium: France’s Aerospatiale Matra, Germany’s DaimlerChrysler Aerospace, and Spain’s CASA. The following year the fourth partner, Britain’s BAE Systems, agreed to make Airbus an integrated company. In 2001 Airbus Industrie became a single company, Airbus, ending its long status as an industrial consortium.
In 2000 Airbus launched production of the A380, a superjumbo jet with seating on two decks capable of carrying 555 passengers in a typical three-class configuration. The aircraft, scheduled to enter service in 2006, will eclipse Boeing’s 747-400 as the largest commercial passenger aircraft. The move ended Boeing’s monopoly on jumbo jets.