Airbus began as a consortium of aerospace manufacturers. Consolidation of European defence and aerospace companies around the turn of the century allowed the establishment of a simplified joint stock company in 2001, owned by EADS (80%) and BAE Systems (20%). After a protracted sales process BAE sold its shareholding to EADS on 13 October 2006.
Airbus employs around 57,000 people at sixteen sites in four European Union countries: Germany, France, the United Kingdom, and Spain. Final assembly production is at Toulouse (France), Hamburg (Germany), Seville (Spain) and Tianjin (China). Airbus has subsidiaries in the United States, Japan and China.
Airbus Industrie began as a consortium of European aviation firms to compete with American companies such as Boeing, McDonnell Douglas, and Lockheed.
While many European aircraft were innovative, even the most successful had small production runs. In 1991, Jean Pierson, then CEO and Managing Director of Airbus Industrie, described a number of factors which explained the dominant position of American aircraft manufacturers: the land mass of the United States made air transport the favoured mode of travel; a 1942 Anglo-American agreement entrusted transport aircraft production to the US; and World War II had left America with "a profitable, vigorous, powerful and structured aeronautical industry."
In the mid-1960s, tentative negotiations commenced regarding a European collaborative approach. Individual aircraft companies had already envisaged such a requirement; in 1959 Hawker Siddeley had advertised an "Airbus" version of the Armstrong Whitworth AW.660 Argosy, which would "be able to lift as many as 126 passengers on ultra short routes at a direct operating cost of 2d. per seat mile." However, European aircraft manufacturers were aware of the risks of such a development and began to accept, along with their governments, that collaboration was required to develop such an aircraft and to compete with the more powerful US manufacturers. At the 1965 Paris Air Show major European airlines informally discussed their requirements for a new "airbus" capable of transporting 100 or more passengers over short to medium distances at a low cost. The same year Hawker Siddeley (at the urging of the UK government) teamed with Breguet and Nord to study airbus designs. The Hawker Siddeley/Breguet/Nord groups HBN 100 became the basis for the continuation of the project. By 1966 the partners were Sud Aviation (France), Arbeitsgemeinschaft Airbus, later Deutsche Airbus (Germany) and Hawker Siddeley (UK). A request for funding was made to the three governments in October 1966.
By early 1967 the "A300" label began to be applied and the proposal developed into a 320 seat, twin engined airliner. On 25 July 1967 the three governments agreed to proceed to the definition stage with the mission statement:
"For the purpose of strengthening European co-operation in the field of aviation technology and thereby promoting economic and technological progress in Europe, to take appropriate measures for the joint development and production of an airbus."
Shortly after the agreement, Roger Béteille was appointed technical director of the A300 project.Béteille developed a division of labour which would be the basis of Airbus' production for years to come: France would manufacture the cockpit, flight control and the lower centre section of the fuselage; Hawker Siddeley, whose Trident technology had impressed him, was to manufacture the wings; Germany should make the forward and rear fuselage sections, as well as the upper centre section; The Dutch would make the flaps and spoilers; finally Spain (yet to become a full partner) would make the horizontal tailplane. On 26 September 1967 the German, French and British governments signed a Memorandum of Understanding in London which allowed continued development studies. This also confirmed Sud Aviation as the "lead company", that France and the UK would each have a 37.5% workshare with Germany taking 25%, and that Rolls-Royce would manufacture the engines.
In the two years following this agreement, both the British and French governments expressed doubts about the project. The MoU had stated that 75 orders must be achieved by 31 July 1968. However lukewarm airline support for a 300 seat Airbus A300 lead to the partners submitting the A250 proposal (what became the A300B) for a 250 seat airliner powered by existing engines. This dramatically reduced development costs, as the Rolls-Royce RB207 represented a large proportion of those costs. The RB207 had also suffered difficulties, since Rolls-Royce was concentrating its efforts on the development of the related RB211 for the Lockheed L-1011. The French government threatened to withdraw from the project due to the concern over funding development of the Airbus A300, Concorde and the Dassault Mercure concurrently, but was persuaded otherwise. Having announced its concern at the A300B proposal in December 1968, and fearing it would not recoup its investment due to lack of sales, the British government announced its withdrawal on 10 April 1969. Germany took this opportunity to increase its share of the project to 50%. Given the participation by Hawker Siddeley up to that point, France and Germany were reluctant to take over its wing design. Thus the British company was allowed to continue as a privileged subcontractor.Hawker Siddeley invested GB£35 million in tooling and, requiring more capital, received a GB£35 million loan from the German government.
Formation of Airbus
Airbus Industrie was formally established as a Groupement d'Interet Economique (Economic Interest Group or GIE) on 18 December 1970. It had been formed by a government initiative between France, Germany and the UK that originated in 1967. The name "Airbus" was taken from a non-proprietary term used by the airline industry in the 1960s to refer to a commercial aircraft of a certain size and range, for this term was acceptable to the French linguistically. Aerospatiale and Deutsche Airbus each took a 36.5% share of production work, Hawker Siddeley 20% and Fokker-VFW 7%. Each company would deliver its sections as fully equipped, ready-to-fly items. In October 1971 the Spanish company CASA acquired a 4.2% share of Airbus Industrie, with Aerospatiale and Deutsche Airbus reducing their stakes to 47.9%. In January 1979 British Aerospace, which had absorbed Hawker Siddeley in 1977, acquired a 20% share of Airbus Industrie. The majority shareholders reduced their shares to 37.9%, while CASA retained its 4.2%.
In 1972, the A300 made its maiden flight and the first production model, the A300B2 entered service in 1974. Initially the success of the consortium was poor but by 1979 there were 81 aircraft in service. It was the launch of the A320 in 1981 that guaranteed the status of Airbus as a major player in the aircraft market - the aircraft had over 400 orders before it first flew, compared to 15 for the A300 in 1972.
Transition to Airbus SAS
The retention of production and engineering assets by the partner companies in effect made Airbus Industrie a sales and marketing company. This arrangement led to inefficiencies due to the inherent conflicts of interest that the four partner companies faced; they were both GIE shareholders and subcontractors to the consortium. The companies collaborated on development of the Airbus range, but guarded the financial details of their own production activities and sought to maximise the transfer prices of their sub-assemblies.
In the early 1990s the then Airbus CEO Jean Pierson argued that the GIE should be abandoned and Airbus established as a conventional company. However, the difficulties of integrating and valuing the assets of four companies, as well as legal issues, delayed the initiative. In December 1998, when it was reported that British Aerospace and DASA were close to merging, Aérospatiale paralysed negotiations on the Airbus conversion; the French company feared the combined BAe/DASA, which would own 57.9% of Airbus, would dominate the company and it insisted on a 50/50 split.However, the issue was resolved in January 1999 when BAe abandoned talks with DASA in favour of merging with Marconi Electronic Systems to become BAE Systems. Then in 2000 three of the four partner companies (DaimlerChrysler Aerospace, successor to Deutsche Airbus; Aérospatiale-Matra, successor to Sud-Aviation; and CASA) merged to form EADS, simplifying the process. EADS now owned Airbus France, Airbus Deutschland and Airbus España, and thus 80% of Airbus Industrie.BAE Systems and EADS transferred their production assets to the new company, Airbus SAS, in return for shareholdings in that company.
BAE sale and A380 controversy
On 6 April 2006 BBC News reported that BAE Systems was selling its share, then "conservatively valued" at €3.5 billion (US$4.17 bn). The move was seen by many analysts as a move to make partnerships with U.S. firms more feasible, in both financial and political terms. BAE originally sought to agree on a price with EADS through an informal process. However, due to the slow pace of negotiations and disagreements over price, BAE exercised its put option which saw investment bank Rothschild appointed to give an independent valuation.
In June 2006, Airbus became embroiled in a significant international controversy over its announcement of a further delay in the delivery of its A380. In the wake of the announcement, the value of associated stock plunged by up to 25% in a matter of days, although it soon recovered somewhat. Allegations of insider trading on the part of Noël Forgeard, CEO of EADS, its majority corporate parent, promptly followed. The loss of associated value caused great concern on the part of BAE, The Independent describing a "furious row" between BAE and EADS, with BAE believing the announcement was designed to depress the value of its share. A French shareholder group filed a class action lawsuit against EADS in a Dutch court for failing to inform investors of the financial implications of the A380 delays while airlines to which deliveries were promised are expected to demand compensation. As a result, EADS chief Noël Forgeard and Airbus CEO Gustav Humbert announced their resignations on 2 July 2006.
On 2 July 2006 Rothschild valued BAE's stake at £1.9 billion (€2.75 billion), well below the expectation of BAE analysts and even EADS. On 5 July BAE appointed independent auditors to investigate how the value of its share of Airbus had fallen from the original estimates to the Rothschild valuation. They pushed back any potential sale until September at the earliest. On 6 September 2006 BAE agreed to sell its stake in Airbus to EADS for £1.87 billion (€2.75 billion, $3.53 billion), pending BAE shareholder approval. On 4 October shareholders voted in favour of the sale.
On 9 October 2006 Christian Streiff, Humbert's successor, resigned due to differences with parent company EADS over the amount of independence he would be granted in implementing his reorganization plan for Airbus. He will be succeeded by EADS co-CEO Louis Gallois. This brings Airbus under more direct control of its parent company.
On 3 October 2006, Christian Streiff announced that the reason for delay of the Airbus A380 was the use of incompatible software used to design the aircraft. Primarily, the Toulouse assembly plant used the latest version 5 of CATIA (made by Dassault), while the design centre at the Hamburg factory used an older incompatible version 4. Parts of the plane were also designed using Parametric Technology Corporation software. The responsibility for the problem was put on the top management for not placing a high enough priority on forcing the compatible software through all parts of the organization. The result was that the 530km of cables wiring throughout the aircraft had to be completely redesigned.
The cost of this debacle is expected to reach $6.1 billion over the next four years. Although none of the orders have been canceled, Airbus will have to pay millions in late-delivery penalties.
On 28 February 2007, CEO Louis Gallois announced the company's restructuring plans. Entitled Power8, the plan would see 10,000 jobs cut over four years; 4,300 in France, 3,700 in Germany, 1,600 in the UK and 400 in Spain. 5,000 of the 10,000 would be at sub contractors. Plants at Saint Nazaire, Varel and Laupheim face sell off or closure, while Meaulte, Nordenham and Filton are "open to investors". As of 16 September 2008 the Laupheim plant has been sold to a Thales-Diehl consortium and the operations at Filton have been sold to GKN of the United Kingdom. The announcements have resulted in Airbus unions in France planning to strike, with German Airbus workers possibly following.
The Airbus product line started with the A300, the world's first twin-aisle, twin-engined aircraft. A shorter, re-winged, re-engined variant of the A300 is known as the A310. Building on its success, Airbus launched the A320 with its innovative fly-by-wire control system. The A320 has been, and continues to be, a great commercial success. The A318 and A319 are shorter derivatives with some of the latter under construction for the corporate biz-jet market (Airbus Corporate Jet). A stretched version is known as the A321 and is proving competitive with later models of the Boeing 737.
The longer-range products, the twin-jet A330 and the four-engine A340, have efficient wings, enhanced by winglets. The Airbus A340-500 has an operating range of 16 700 kilometres (9000 nautical miles), the second longest range of any commercial jet after the Boeing 777-200LR (range of 17 446 km or 9420 nautical miles). The company is particularly proud of its use of fly-by-wire technologies and the common cockpit systems in use throughout the aircraft family, which make it much easier to train crew.
Airbus is studying a replacement for the A320 series, tentatively dubbed NSR, for "New Short-Range aircraft." Those studies indicated a maximum fuel efficiency gain of 9-10% for the NSR. Airbus however opted to enhance the existing A320 design using new winglets and working on aerodynamical improvements. This "A320 Enhanced" should have a fuel efficiency improvement of around 4-5%, shifting the launch of a A320 replacement to 2017-2018.
In July 2007, Airbus delivered its last A300 to FedEx, marking the end of the A300/A310 production line. Airbus intends to relocate Toulouse A320 final assembly activity to Hamburg, and A350/A380 production in the opposite direction as part of its Power8 organization plan begun under ex-CEO Christian Streiff.
Airbus supplied replacement parts and service for Concorde until its retirement in 2003.
The final assembly lines of Airbus are in Toulouse (France) (two assembly lines) and Hamburg (Germany) (one assembly line). A fourth final assembly line, for the Airbus A400M, is in Seville (Spain).
Airbus, however, has a number of other plants in different European locations, reflecting its foundation as a consortium. An original solution to the problem of moving aircraft parts between the different factories and the assembly plants is the use of "Beluga" specially enlarged jets, capable of carrying entire sections of fuselage of Airbus aircraft. This solution has also been investigated by Boeing, who retrofitted 3 of their 747 aircraft to transport the components of the 787. An exception to this scheme is the A380, whose fuselage and wings are too large for sections to be carried by the Beluga. Large A380 parts are brought by ship to Bordeaux, and then transported to the Toulouse assembly plant by a specially enlarged road.
North America is an important region to Airbus in terms of both aircraft sales and suppliers. 2,000 of the total of approximately 5,300 Airbus jetliners sold by Airbus around the world, representing every aircraft in its product line from the 107-seat A318 to the 565-passenger A380, are ordered by North American customers. According to Airbus, US contractors, supporting an estimated 120,000 jobs, earned an estimated $5.5 billion (2003) worth of business. For example, one version of the A380 has 51% American content in terms of work share value.
EADS Airbus will be opening an assembly plant in Tianjin, China for its A320 series airliners, to be operational in 2009. AVIC I and AVIC II will be EADS' local partners for the site, to which sub-assemblies will be sent from plants around the world.
A plant will be built in Mobile, Alabama for KC-45A, A330-200MRTT and A330-200F production.
Airbus aircraft numbering system
The Airbus numbering system is an alpha numeric model number followed by a dash and a three digit number.
The model number takes the form of the letter "A" followed by a '3', a digit, then followed normally by a '0' (except in the case of the A319, A321 and A400M) , e.g. A320. The succeeding three digit number represents the aircraft series, the engine manufacturer and engine version number respectively. To use an A320-200 with International Aero Engines (IAE) V2500-A1 engines as an example; The code is 2 for series 200, 3 for IAE and engine version 1, thus the aircraft number is A320-231.
An additional letter is sometimes used. These include, 'C' for a combi version (passenger/freighter), 'F' for a freighter model, 'R' for the long range model, and 'X' for the enhanced model.