The Airbus A300 is a wide-body twin-engine jet airliner that was developed and manufactured by Airbus. Formally announced in 1969 and first flying in October 1972, it holds the distinction of being the world’s first twin-engined widebody airliner; it was also the first product of Airbus Industrie, a consortium of European aerospace manufacturers, now a subsidiary of Airbus. The A300 can typically seat 266 passengers in a two-class layout, with a maximum range of 4,070 nautical miles (7,540 km) when fully loaded, depending on model.
Development of the A300 began during the 1960s as a European collaborative project between various aircraft manufacturers in the United Kingdom, France, and West Germany. In September 1967, the participating nations signed a Memorandum of Understanding to manufacture the aircraft. The British withdrew from the project on 10 April 1969. A new agreement was reached between Germany and France on 29 May 1969, and Airbus Industrie was formally created on 18 December 1970 to develop and produce the A300. The type first flew on 28 October 1972.
Air France, the launch customer for the A300, introduced the type into service on 30 May 1974. Following a period of limited customer demand, the A300 achieved several large sales in 1978, after which the type was viewed to have proven itself and orders came in at a steady rate across the next three decades. During the 1990s, the A300 became popular with various freight operators, and several different cargo aircraft variants were produced. Production of the A300 ceased in July 2007, along with its smaller A310 derivative. The freighter sales for which the A300 had previously competed in later life are instead fulfilled by the A330-200F, a derivative of the newer Airbus A330.
Innovative from inception
As well as being the first twin-engine widebody the A300 pioneered the use of composites by using glass-fibre reinforced plastics for the leading and trailing edges of the vertical tail-plane. An advanced wing that increased lift and allowed faster climbing than other aircraft of similar size was another major step forward.
The A300 was also the first commercial aircraft to feature wind shear protection. An advanced auto-pilot and electrically controlled braking were later joined by the Forward-Facing Crew Cockpit which removed the need for a flight engineer for the first time.
The company also showed how customer-focused it would be by developing a stretched version of the A300 when Air France wanted more than the originally planned 250 seats. This flexibility was rewarded in September 1970 when Air France became Airbus’ first customer by signing a letter of intent for six A300s.
It was a major step towards becoming a serious competitor in the market but George Warde, Airbus’ first head of product support, remembered that the company’s leaders were aware of the need to go further: “We were most anxious to develop a family of aircraft that would give people options right through the range. The question of commonality was also very important.”
During the 1960s, European aircraft manufacturers such as Hawker Siddeley and the British Aircraft Corporation, based in the UK, and Sud Aviation of France, had ambitions to build a new 200-seat airliner for the growing civil aviation market. While studies were performed and considered, such as a stretched twin-engine of the Hawker Siddeley Trident and an expanded development of the British Aircraft Corporation BAC One-Eleven, designated the BAC Two-Eleven and BAC Three-Eleven, it was recognized that if each of the European manufacturers were to launch quite similar aircraft onto the market at the same time, none of them would achieve the volume sales needed to make them viable. In 1965, a government study, known as the Plowden Report, had found British aircraft production costs to between 10 and 20 per cent higher than American counterparts due to shorter production runs, which in turn was due to the fractured European market. To overcome this factor, the report recommended the pursuit of multinational collaborative projects between the region’s leading aircraft manufacturers.
European manufacturers were keen to explore prospective programs; the proposed 260-seat wide-body HBN 100 between Hawker Siddeley, Nord Aviation, and Breguet Aviation being one such example. National governments were also keen to support such efforts amid a belief that American manufacturers could dominate the European Economic Community; in particular, Germany had ambitions for a multinational airliner project to invigorate its aircraft industry, which had declined considerably following the Second World War.During the mid-1960s, both Air France and American Airlines had expressed interest in a twin-engine wide-body aircraft, indicating a market demand for such an aircraft to be produced. In July 1967, during a high-profile meeting between French, German, and British ministers, an agreement was made for greater cooperation between European nations in the field of aviation technology, and “for the joint development and production of an airbus”. The word airbus at this point was a generic aviation term for a larger commercial aircraft, and was considered acceptable in multiple languages, including French.
Shortly after the July 1967 meeting, French engineer Roger Béteille was appointed as the technical director of what would become the A300 program, while Henri Ziegler, chief operating office of Sud Aviation, was appointed as the general manager of the organization and German politician Franz Josef Strauss became the chairman of the supervisory board. Béteille drew up an initial work share plan for the project, under which French firms would produce the aircraft’s cockpit, the control systems, and lower-center portion of the fuselage, Hawker Siddeley would manufacture the wings, while German companies would produce the forward, rear and upper part of the center fuselage sections. Addition work included moving elements of the wings being produced in the Netherlands, and Spain producing the horizontal tail plane.
An early design goal for the A300 that Béteille had stressed the importance of was the incorporation of a high level of technology, which would serve as a decisive advantage over prospective competitors. As such, the A300 would feature the first use of compositematerials of any passenger aircraft, the leading and trailing edges of the tail fin being composed of glass fibre reinforced plastic. Béteille opted for English as the working language for the developing aircraft, as well against using Metric instrumentation and measurements, as most airlines already had US-built aircraft. These decisions were partially influenced by feedback from various airlines, such as Air France and Lufthansa, as an emphasis had been placed on determining the specifics of what kind of aircraft that potential operators were seeking. According to Airbus, this cultural approach to market research had been crucial to the company’s long term success.
In December 1968, the French and British partner companies (Sud Aviation and Hawker Siddeley) proposed a revised configuration, the 250-seat Airbus A250. It had been feared that the original 300-seat proposal was too large for the market, thus it had been scaled down to produce the A250. The dimensional changes involved in the shrink reduced the length of the fuselage by 5.62 meters and the diameter by 0.8 meters, reducing the overall weight by 25 tonnes. For increased flexibility, the cabin floor was raised so that standard LD3 freight containers could be accommodated side-by-side, allowing more cargo to be carried. Refinements made by Hawker Siddeley to the wing’s design provided for greater lift and overall performance; this gave the aircraft the ability to climb faster and attain a level cruising altitude sooner than any other passenger aircraft. It was later renamed the A300B.
Perhaps the most significant change of the A300B was that it would not require new engines to be developed, being of a suitable size to be powered by Rolls-Royce’s RB211, or alternatively the American Pratt & Whitney JT9D and General Electric CF6 powerplants; this switch was recognized as considerably reducing the project’s development costs. To attract potential customers in the US market, it was decided that General Electric CF6-50 engines would power the A300 in place of the British RB207; these engines would be produced in co-operation with French firm Snecma. By this time, Rolls-Royce had been concentrating their efforts upon developing their RB211 turbofan engine instead and progress on the RB207’s development had been slow for some time, the firm having suffered due to funding limitations, both of which had been factors in the engine switch decision.
On 10 April 1969, a few months after the decision to drop the RB207 had been announced, the British government announced that they would withdraw from the Airbus venture. In response, West Germany proposed to France that they would be willing to contribute up to 50% of the project’s costs if France was prepared to do the same. Additionally, the managing director of Hawker Siddeley, Sir Arnold Alexander Hall, decided that his company would remain in the project as a favoured sub-contractor, developing and manufacturing the wings for the A300, which would later become pivotal in later versions’ impressive performance from short domestic to long intercontinental flights. Hawker Siddeley spent £35 million of its own funds, along with a further £35 million loan from the West German government, on the machine tooling to design and produce the wings.
The A300 is powered by a pair of underwing turbofan engines, either General Electric CF6 and Pratt & Whitney JT9D engines; the sole use of underwing engine pods allowed for any suitable turbofan engine to be more readily used. The lack of a third tail-mounted engine, as per the trijet configuration used by some competing airliners, allowed for the wings to be located further forwards and to reduce the size of the vertical stabilizer and elevator, which had the effect of increasing the aircraft’s flight performance and fuel efficiency.
Airbus partners had employed the latest technology, some of which having been derived from Concorde, on the A300. According to Airbus, new technologies adopted for the airliner were selected principally for increased safety, operational capability, and profitability. Upon entry into service in 1974, the A300 was a very advanced plane, which went on to influence later airliner designs. The technological highlights include:
- Advanced wings by de Havilland (later BAE Systems) with:
- Supercritical airfoil section for economical performance
- advanced aerodynamically efficient flight control surfaces
- 5.64 m (222 in) diameter circular fuselage section for 8-abreast passenger seating and wide enough for 2 LD3 cargo containers side-by-side
- Structures made from metal billets, reducing weight
- First airliner to be fitted with wind shear protection
- Advanced autopilots capable of flying the aircraft from climb-out to landing
- Electrically controlled braking system
In addition to passenger duties, the A300 became widely used by air freight operators; according to Airbus, it is the best selling freight aircraft of all time. Various variants of the A300 were built to meet customer demands, often for diverse roles such as aerial refueling tankers, freighter models (new-build and conversions), combi aircraft, military airlifter, and VIP transport. Perhaps the most visually unique of the variants is the A300-600ST Beluga, a oversize cargo-carrying model operated by Airbus to carry aircraft sections between their manufacturing facilities. The A300 was the basis for, and retained a high level of commonality with, the second airliner produced by Airbus, the smaller Airbus A310.
Immediately after the launch, sales of the A300 were weak for some years, with most orders going to airlines that had an obligation to favor the domestically made product – notably Air France and Lufthansa, the first two airlines to place orders for the type. Following the appointment of Bernard Lathière as Henri Ziegler’s replacement, an aggressive sales approach was adopted. Indian Airlines was the world’s first domestic airline to purchase the A300, ordering three aircraft with three options. However, between December 1975 and May 1977, there were no sales for the type. During this period a number of “whitetail” A300s – completed but unsold aircraft – were completed and stored at Toulouse, and production fell to half an aircraft per month amid calls to pause production completely.
During the flight testing of the A300B2, Airbus held a series of talks with Korean Air on the topic of developing a longer-range version of the A300, which would become the A300B4. In September 1974, Korean Air placed an order for 4 A300B4s with options for 2 further aircraft; this sale was viewed as significant as it was the first non-European international airline to order Airbus aircraft. Airbus had viewed South-East Asia as a vital market that was ready to be opened up and believed that Korean Air to be the ‘key’.
It was becoming clear that the whole concept of a short haul widebody was flawed. Airlines operating the A300 on short haul routes were forced to reduce frequencies to try and fill the aircraft. As a result, they lost passengers to airlines operating more frequent narrow body flights. The supposed widebody comfort which it was assumed passengers would demand was illusory. Eventually, Airbus had to build its own narrowbody aircraft (the A320) to compete with the Boeing 737 and McDonnell Douglas DC-9/MD-80. The savior of the A300 was the advent of Extended Range Twin Operations (ETOPS), a revised FAA rule which allows twin-engine jets to fly long-distance routes that were previously off-limits to them. This enabled Airbus to develop the aircraft as a medium/long range airliner.
In 1977, US carrier Eastern Air Lines leased four A300s as an in-service trial. Frank Borman, ex-astronaut and the then CEO of the airline, was impressed that the A300 consumed 30% less fuel, even more economical than expected, in contrast to his fleet of Tristars and proceeded to order 23 A300s, becoming the first U.S. customer for the type (This order is often cited as the point at which Airbus came to be seen as a serious competitor to the large American aircraft-manufacturers Boeing and McDonnell Douglas). Aviation author John Bowen alleged that various concessions, such as loan guarantees from European governments and compensation payments, were a factor in the decision as well. The Eastern Air Lines breakthrough was shortly followed by an order from Pan Am. From then on, the A300 family sold well, eventually reaching a total of 816 delivered aircraft.
In December 1977, AeroCóndor Colombia became the first Airbus operator in Latin America, leasing one Airbus A300, named “Ciudad de Barranquilla”.
During the late 1970s, Airbus adopted a so-called ‘Silk Road’ strategy, targeting airlines in the Far East. As a result, The aircraft found particular favor with Asian airlines, being bought by Japan Air System, Korean Air, China Eastern Airlines, Thai Airways International, Singapore Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, Philippine Airlines, Garuda Indonesia, China Airlines, Pakistan International Airlines, Indian Airlines, Trans Australia Airlines and many others. As Asia did not have restrictions similar to the FAA 60-minutes rule for twin-engine airliners which existed at the time, Asian airlines used A300s for routes across the Bay of Bengal and South China Sea.
In 1977, the A300B4 became the first ETOPS compliant aircraft – its high performance and safety standards qualified it for Extended Twin Engine Operations over water, providing operators with more versatility in routing. In 1982 Garuda Indonesia became the first airline to fly the A300B4-200FF. By 1981, Airbus was growing rapidly, with over 300 aircraft sold and options for 200 more planes for over forty airlines. Alarmed by the success of the A300, Boeing responded with the new Boeing 767.
In 1989, Chinese operator China Eastern Airlines received its first A300; by 2006, the airline operated around 18 A300s, making it the largest operator of both the A300 and the A310 at that time. On 31 May 2014, China Eastern officially retired the last A300-600 in its fleet, having begun drawing down the type in 2010.
From 1997 to 2014, a single A300, designated A300 Zero-G, was operated by the European Space Agency (ESA), centre national d’études spatiales (CNES) and the German Aerospace Center (DLR) as a reduced-gravity aircraftfor conducting research into microgravity; the A300 is the largest aircraft to ever have been used in this capacity. A typical flight would last for two and a half hours, enabling up to 30 parabolas to be performed per flight.
By the 1990s, the A300 was being heavily promoted as a cargo freighter. The largest freight operator of the A300 is FedEx Express, which has 68 A300 aircraft in service. UPS Airlines also operates 52 freighter versions of the A300. The final version was the A300-600R and is rated for 180-minute ETOPS. The A300 has enjoyed renewed interest in the secondhand market for conversion to freighters; large numbers were being converted during the late 1990s. The freighter versions – either new-build A300-600s or converted ex-passenger A300-600s, A300B2s and B4s – account for most of the world freighter fleet after the Boeing 747 freighter.
The A300 provided Airbus the experience of manufacturing and selling airliners competitively. The basic fuselage of the A300 was later stretched (A330 and A340), shortened (A310), or modified into derivatives (A300-600ST Beluga Super Transporter). In March 2006, Airbus announced the impending closure of the A300/A310 final assembly line, making them the first Airbus aircraft to be discontinued. The final production A300, an A300F freighter, performed its initial flight on 18 April 2007, and was delivered to FedEx Express on 12 July 2007. Airbus has announced a support package to keep A300s flying commercially until at least 2025.
The useful life of the UPS fleet of 52 delivered from 2000 to 2006 will be extended to 2035 by a flight deck upgrade based around Honeywell Primus Epic avionics : new displays and flight management system (FMS), improved 3-D weather radar, a central maintenance system, and a new version of the current enhanced ground proximity warning system. With a light usage of only two to three cycles per day, it will not reach the maximum number of cycles by then. The first modification will be made at Airbus Toulouse in 2019 and certified in 2020.
Only two were built: the first prototype, registered F-WUAB, then F-OCAZ, and a second aircraft, F-WUAC, which was leased in November 1974 to Trans European Airways (TEA) and re-registered OO-TEF. TEA instantly subleased the aircraft for six weeks to Air Algérie, but continued to operate the aircraft until 1990. It had accommodation for 300 passengers (TEA) or 323 passengers (Air Algérie) with a maximum weight of 132,000 kg and two General Electric CF6-50A engines of 220 kN thrust. The A300B1 was five frames shorter than the later production versions, being only 50.97 m (167.2 ft) in length.
The first production version. Powered by General Electric CF6 or Pratt & Whitney JT9D engines (the same engines that powered the Boeing 747-100, “the original jumbo jet”) of between 227 and 236 kN thrust, it entered service with Air France in May 1974. The prototype A300B2 made its first flight on 28 June 1973 and was certificated by the French and German authorities on 15 March 1974 and FAA approval followed on 30 May 1974. The first production A300B2 (A300 number 5) made its maiden flight on 15 April 1974 and was handed over to Air France a few weeks later on 10 May 1974. The A300B2 entered revenue service on 23 May 1974 between Paris and London.
- A300B2-100: 137 Metric Ton MTOW
- A300B2-200: 142 Metric Ton MTOW, with Krüger flaps, first delivery to South African Airways in 1976
- A300B2-300: increased Maximum Landing Weight/Maximum Zero Fuel Weight
- A300B4-100: 157.5 Metric Ton MTOW, first delivery to Germanair in 1975.
- A300B4-200: 165 Metric Ton MTOW, first delivery to Hapag-Lloyd Flug in 1980
- A300B4-200FF: An A300 with a “forward-facing” crew compartment. The world’s first 2-crew widebody airliner. Includes some of the A310’s and A300-600’s digital avionics. First saw service with Garuda Indonesia in 1982, further customers were VASP, Tunisair and Kar-Air/Finnair.
- A300B4-600: Referred to as the A300-600. See Below.
- A300C4: Convertible freighter version, with a large cargo door on the port side. First delivered to South African Airways in October 1982.
- A300F4-200: Freighter version of the A300B4-200. First delivery occurred in 1986, but only very few were built as the A300F4-200 was soon replaced by the more capable A300-600F (official designation: A300F4-600).
Officially designated A300B4-600, this version is nearly the same length as the B2 and B4 but has increased space because it uses the A310 rear fuselage and horizontal tail. It has higher power CF6-80 or Pratt & Whitney PW4000engines and uses the Honeywell 331-250 auxiliary power unit (APU). Other changes include an improved wing featuring a recambered trailing edge, the incorporation of simpler single-slotted Fowler flaps, the deletion of slat fences, and the removal of the outboard ailerons after they were deemed unnecessary on the A310. The A300-600 made its first flight on 8 July 1983 and entered service later that year with Saudi Arabian Airlines. A total of 313 A300-600s (all versions) have been sold. The A300-600 also has a similar cockpit to the A310, eliminating the need for a flight engineer. The FAA issues a single type rating which allows operation of both the A310 and A300-600.
- A300-600: (Official designation: A300B4-600) The baseline model of the −600 series.
- A300-620C: (Official designation: A300C4-620) A convertible freighter version. First delivery December 1985.
- A300-600F: (Official designation: A300F4-600) The freighter version of the baseline −600.
- A300-600R: (Official designation: A300B4-600R) The increased range −600, achieved by an additional trim fuel tank in the tail. First delivery in 1988 to American Airlines; all A300s built since 1989 (freighters included) are −600Rs. Japan Air System (later merged in Japan Airlines) took delivery of the last new-built passenger A300, an A300-622R, in November 2002.
- A300-600RF: (Official designation: A300F4-600R) The freighter version of the −600R. All A300s delivered between November 2002 and 12 July 2007 (last ever A300 delivery) were A300-600RFs.
Introduced a shorter fuselage, a new, higher aspect ratio wing, smaller horizontal tail and two crew operation. It was available in standard −200 and the Extended range −300 with 9,600 km (5,965 mi) range in both passenger and full cargo versions.
It was also available as a military tanker/transport serving the Canadian Forces and German Air Force. Sales total 260, although five of these (ordered by Iraqi Airways) were never built.
Commonly referred to as the Airbus Beluga or “Airbus Super Transporter,” these five airframes are used by Airbus to ferry parts between the company’s disparate manufacturing facilities, thus enabling workshare distribution. They replaced the four Aero Spacelines Super Guppys previously used by Airbus.
Airbus now has two variants of the world’s most advanced widebody, the A350 XWB, in production. The A350-900 was delivered to launch customer Qatar Airways in December 2014 and the A350-1000 made its first flight in November 2016. Composites are a major area for innovation once again, now making up more than 50% of the fuselage.
The A330neo, a re-engined and aeronautically enhanced A330, will join in 2017 the A350 XWB as Airbus strives to become dominant in the wide-body market. Achieving that will take the same strengths that took the A300 from paper to the world’s airlines: innovation, customer focus, determination and an international production system. The task shouldn’t be beyond a company that was born to be wide.