Pontifications: Airbus-the First 50 Years

Book Review

By Scott Hamilton

July 8, 2019, © Leeham News: When a company authorizes or sponsors a book about some major event, the book is usually a puff piece meant for the coffee table in reception.

Airbus authorized the book, Airbus: The First 50 Years, but it’s no puff piece. It’s an honest, candid accounting of how the company came to be, navigating through country and corporate politics, face offs with rival Boeing, reporting the insider trading allegations and ending with the as-yet unfinished corruption scandal investigations.

Nicola Clark, the aerospace reporter for the International Herald Tribune, did a superb job up to her usual reporting standards while avoiding the puff pieces that usually come with an authorized book.

Airbus: The First 50 Years has been pulled by Airbus. See this story by Reuters.

Early days

It is well known that Airbus was conceived in the late 1960s and developed its first airplane, the A300B, in the early 1970s.

Clark takes the reader through the thought process behind the multi-national concept, the intense trans-border politicking that went on, Britain’s hot-and-cold positions and how the looming failure of the Concorde SST joint venture between Britain and France affected opinions and policies.

Boeing, Lockheed and McDonnell Douglas dismissed the new Airbus as simply another European jobs program that would produce a niche airplane. There was plenty of evidence to support this view. Since the Europeans reentered commercial airplane production after World War II, only the Vickers Viscount and Sud Aviation Caravelle were successes.

As Airbus offered the A300B, a 250-passenger, twin-engine wide-body aircraft, only the national airlines of the member states (France, Germany and Spain) placed orders. Britain’s BOAC, then a state-owned company, bought Boeing and Spain’s Iberia at one point canceled its order.

The three US companies had little reason to be concerned.


Then Airbus offered Eastern Airlines the deal of the century: fly four A300Bs for $1 per month, paying for operating expenses only.

Boeing, at least, woke up. It ran to the US government, demanding a 5% tariff be levied, a practice that continues to this day. The Carter Administration refused.

Eastern liked the A300 and ordered two dozen. American Airlines eventually ordered a later model, the A300-600R. Pan Am placed an order for A300s, A310s and A320s, with liberal substitution rights.

Delta Air Lines ordered nine A310-300s after acquiring key Pan Am assets as the carrier spiraled into bankruptcy.

Northwest, United and US Air eventually ordered a variety of Airbus airplanes.

Roots of the trade war

Clark takes the reader through the roots of what would eventually become the longest running and most expensive trade complaint ever.

Complaining about state subsidies to Airbus—they were liberal terms and lots of money—Boeing and McDonnell Douglas persuaded the US government to seek a cap on launch aid. (Lockheed by this time had withdrawn from commercial aviation.) Thus, the 1992 GATT agreement, limiting launch aid to one third of the cost of program development. As for the US companies, direct and indirect benefit from NASA and the military was capped.

McDonnell Douglas merged into Boeing in 1997, leaving the global airlines with only Airbus and Boeing as principal mainline jet providers.

For its part, Boeing saw Airbus and the member states cheating on the GATT agreements. When Airbus was heading toward launch of the A380, threatening Boeing’s monopoly at the high end of the airplane chain, then-CEO Phil Condit vowed to the Airbus CEO Boeing would file a trade complaint if Airbus proceeded. Airbus did, and so did Boeing, persuading the US in 2004 to repudiate the 1992 GATT agreement.

(It’s widely believed Boeing sought the trade complaint to divert attention from the 2002-03 tanker scandal when, after 9/11, Boeing proposed leasing 100 KC-767s to the US Air Force at what critics considered exorbitant rates. The USAF procurement officer and the Boeing CFO went to jail in the ensuing scandal and Condit resigned. Clark doesn’t address this.)

Thus began the World Trade Organization complaint process that continues to this day, 15 years later.

Reaching parity

Clark takes the story through how Airbus reached parity with Boeing, through a combination of aggressive tactics, high bets with risky airlines and Boeing’s own miscues—including the development of the 787 and several false starts: the Sonic Cruiser and various iterations of the 747 before settling on the 747-8, which proved to be a sales dud.

But the Airbus story isn’t all sweetness and light or partner politicking and rivalry.

The A380 development was, in hindsight, a seminal moment for Airbus.

Intended to be Airbus’ answer to the 747, profits for which effectively subsidized sales campaigns on other Boeing aircraft, the A380 turned into an industrial mess.

Differences and rivalries between the French and German design and production resulted in wiring mismatches when the sections of the A380 were assembled in Toulouse. With more than 500 kilometers of wiring, the early airplanes had to be rewired by hand.

Instead of deliveries beginning in 2006, the first A380 wasn’t handed over until 2008.

Heads rolled. Noel Forgeard, the CEO of EADS and chairman of Airbus, was forced out. Gustav Humbert, president of Airbus, resigned. Charles Champion, the head of the A380 program, was moved to another position.

Christian Streiff, an outsider, was recruited to fix Airbus. He created a program called Power 8, but in doing so, stepped on too many toes. He was resigned after eight months. Still, his Power 8 lay the foundation for Louis Gallois and Tom Enders to meld two Airbuses (France and Germany) into one. This set the stage for Enders to eventually take over as the sole CEO of EADS, which later became Airbus Group.

Enders assembled a team that rationalized Airbus design and production, applied for the first time with the A350. Enders tried to acquired BAE Systems but was thwarted when Germany wouldn’t approve. But this opened the door for Enders and his team to restructure governance to reduce the influence of France and Germany, turning Airbus for the first time into a true commercial company.

Insider trading and corruption

Clark doesn’t ignore the two big scandals at Airbus: allegations of insider trading over the A380 industrial debacle and bribery and corruption, the focus of continuing investigations today.

French authorities charged nearly two dozen top officials with insider trading, allegedly and knowingly selling stock before the A380 industrial problems and delivery delays were announced. In the end, no charges were proven and many were dropped outright. Insider stock sales (or purchases) were possible at pre-determined intervals and the trades in question were cleared by the EADS compliance department. Rules were subsequently tightened, but the allegations in the end held no water.

The bribery and corruption scandals are another matter.

Airbus Group, dating to EADS times, set up an office in Paris to facilitate payments to consultants who supposedly helped win orders for military and commercial products. The problem: in some cases, documentation for work actually performed was lacking and in others, disclosure to export credit agencies of consultant involvement was omitted.

Airbus CFO Harald Wilhelm disclosed the problems to Enders and the company disclosed the problems to regulators.

Years later, the investigations remain open. Airbus fired many people, unfortunately sweeping some innocents with the guilty. Some executives hit retirement age and left; had some of these not, there is a belief these people would have been fired, too.

Enders and Wilhelm had to go, too, even though they disclosed the issues to regulators and took steps to clean house.

Clark recounts all this.

The final outcome—prosecutions, if any, and billions of Euros in fines to Airbus—are chapters yet to be written.

Clark has done a superb job in the First 50 Years. Airbus did a fine job in letting Clark do hers.

This is a book that is a must-read for aviation aficionados.

68 Comments on “Pontifications: Airbus-the First 50 Years

  1. Was watching a TV program about the Concorde, from the French point of view.
    Interesting revelation was an archived recording of President Kennedy talking to then head of the FAA after he had heard Pan Am placed an order for 6 Concordes, not happy and he wanted the FAA coming down hard on Pan Am .
    That was the reality of US dominance of civil avation in the 50s and 60s, maybe into the 70s as well. Would explain why some orders mysteriously dropped . Yes some planes weren’t competitive but others were definitely ahead of their time

  2. I am continually perplexed about this “software disconnect” between Airbus’ French and German plants on the A380, which supposedly lead to the wiring length mismatches. I don’t understand how one using CATIA V4 and another using CATIA V5 could lead to such discrepancies. Maybe it had something to do with the wiring harness package of the different versions.
    I mean CATIA V4 and CATIA V5 both have a very high tolerance on their positioning and several companies use different software to design parts for one project and don’t have these problems. All the parts used at the joints for the different packages had no issues. Why just the wiring harnesses.

    Can anyone please shed some light on how this is possible?

    • My feeling is that it had to do with the type of wire used (aluminum) and its larger turn radius requirements.

      Add into it the length of A380 runs and no slack – a plug under tensions is a failure waiting to happen.

      So even a fraction of a mm short or tensions and you have a major problem.

    • It was rumored to be different wire bend radius models in different Catia versions. Per agreement the old v4 mainframe version should be used. Then the PC compatible V5 became available.

    • I believe the issue was the inconvenient compatibility of the file formats, which meant that the work teams were working off parallel and separate versions of the plan rather than working to a common plan. So when one team made a change to their plan the change wasn’t reflected in the other team’s plan.

      • “In a press release dated October 3, Airbus admits, “The root cause of the problem is the fact that the 3D digital mockup, which facilitates the design of the electrical harnesses installation, was implemented late and that the people working on it were in their learning curve.” According to The Seattle Times, “The problem was made worse by Airbus’ switch to aluminum wiring when the model was designed for copper wiring, which has very different physical properties”

        “Mike Jahadi, chairperson of AIAA’s (American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics) Computer Aided Enterprise Solutions Technical Committee and Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company’s senior manager of CAD/CAM Integration and Strategic Planning, explains, “The aluminum wire would have to have an approximately 50% larger cross section depending on the alloys used. This would make the harnesses stiffer and harder to manage in tight spaces. However, that would not make modeling them any harder or easier in V4 or V5. However, if the increased stiffness was not accounted for in the V4 design (manageable bend radii which is a user-controlled setting in V4), then I could see where you could get into trouble. In CATIA V5 you can assign different material properties to the bundles to account for increased or decreased stiffness. If the vendor in Germany was doing the harness routing in V4 within a V5 digital mockup, I could see how that could also be a problem, since you cannot read V5 parts into V4 unless the V5 parts are converted. That is one of the reasons that we have a converter on our programs at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company.”

        In a similar but different way ( arent they all?) Boeing got caught out for the KC-46 tanker based on the blueprint era 767. Converting all the drawings into computer files probably had been done, but going the step further into 3D modelling for the changes required for the KC46 AND using those CAD files to run through Boeings own software that would model aerodynamics and structural performance was a far greater task than originally thought -extra time and money.
        One thing the USAF wanted was a new cockpit based on the 787, so probably fortuitously, didnt get stuck with 1990s era processors to handle the FMC and others software like the 737 Max seems to have done.

        • I’m surprsed at your claim that drawings for the 767 were ‘blueprints’.

          What was given to some shops and suppliers might have been.

          I did not personally see drawings for the 767, my staff may have, but I remember the 767 itself was a highly digital airplane: avionics in particular, supervisory engine digital fuel controls evolving to digital primary, etc.

          One thing to note is that ‘blueprints’ are copies made from original drawings which by then would certainly have been on plastic film like mylar with paper copies made by a ‘Xerox’ type printing process. Templates should have been made on stable mylar as copies from drawing originals.

          I do remember that tooling for the 767 was more precise, for example some parts like flaps did not need a jig as positioning of holes in parts like skins and ribs was so accurate they could be put together just by installing fasteners in pilot holes, and checking dimensions of the assembly. Wasn’t CNC machining in use by then? Granted, the 767 was designed in the late 1970s.

          Conversion from whatever digital design process to later software would of course have been a risk.

          • That would be right about the 767 developed at the start of the digital design era. Dassaults Catia and Lockheeds Cadam ( in early versions) were available for mainframes by the 1970s. The IBM ‘Draughting system’ began in the 1960s.

  3. It looks like Nicola’s book is due out on September 26th, for anyone interested in ordering. It’s available for preorder on amazon.com and .co.uk, but showing as “unavailable” on some other sites.

  4. @Scott

    Do you know if Spanish version will be released as well? When?

  5. As Emily Litella would say, “Never mind!”

    I just found out it less to do with the software, then rather to do with harness bend radii used in the programs themselves (i.e. Design Standards either incorrect, incomplete, conflicting or potentially not adhered to) and the fact that they switched from copper to aluminum wiring part way through the process and once again, the wrong bend radii were used. Which seems to be still an issue of design standard completeness/accuracy/adherence.

    I also read that Airbus in Germany supposedly used Computervision. That surprises me as I worked on A380 structures from August 2003 until May, 2007 and once again from February 2008 until August 2008 and we were using CATIA V4 during that whole time.

    But I have heard/read a whole series of conflicting explanations as to what happened.

    • Too Late!!!!

      I was shocked they used aluminum wire. Many levels of annoying stuff other than its weight.

      Testament to Airbus they had no operational problems with it. All assembly procedures required to have to be done to a high degree of quality.

      • You are thinking domestic Al wiring which had lots of issues, mostly bad install as a simple Copper replacement

        Previously used in Lockheed Tristar as well, amoung its many innovations

        The high voltage long distance power lines for a grid are Al

  6. Of course Airbus had strong government support early on, just like Comac these days.

    During / after WW2 Boeing was fully government paid, with the US armed forces being top customers 1,2 and 3. In the fifties European industry was slowly resurrecting, while US DoD paid Boeing to build 800 KC135s, 750 B52s and 2000 B47s, within a decade.

    After those 3500 large tubes with podded engines, building the 707, 727, 737 didn’t pose much of a challenge. An add on, financed by a single strategic defense customer, the US government.

    • Keeje: Did not Boeing deliver those products to the US and were they not successful ones?

      If you want to keep harping on it I can refer to France and Britain failing to invest in their defense industry at time when Germany was clearly on the march with theirs.

      Over here we call that a self inflicted wound. Or if France and Britain had fulfilled their obligations as well as strategist sanity and attacked Germany while they were invading Poland?

      Dang, they would have been Aviation competitive and more so.

      So, its Boeings fault that the US Government reorganized we needed to invest in defense and did so to the point where there was no major war?

      Granted that if the WWII had not occurred France, UK, and the various fiddly bits of Netherlands, Belgium etc would not have taken advantage of government contracts and research to fund Civilian airline usage.

      Of course there is another flip side of the coin where Germany spends ooddles building aircraft, subs, tanks and the vast majority (sub all) of which are not combat capable.

      Now how is that different?

    • It should be noted COMEC is not only subsidized, it is owned and run lock, stock and tomahawk by the Chinese government. It has zero independence.

      Airbus had autonomy to a much greater degree –

      Boeing was fully independent and built product to government specifications.

    • Well of course, there was a war to win. Germany and the UK also built aircraft during WW II. Does that constitute government aid to their aircraft industries?

      • Lets see, Ford, Dodge, GM (and lets not forget Sudabaker who supplied the trucks that were means for the Russians to supply –

        Funny, I can’t think of a single industry that was not put on war work. All owned by the US Government per that definition.

        AFH (American Fork and Hoe) build Bayonets! I have one, granted they had problems (really!) and granted they did not do well and its a rare beast pulled out at random from a bin when I was 7.

        I believe there are even people in the UK, France, Netherlands, Belgium etc who still appreciate it.

        I have often found its a good idea to connect brain to keys before typing.

    • Of course this was all after the war. The scale of support, financing, research, production capacity Boeing got out of those 3500 air frames was immensive and positioned Boeing to take the lead for the next 40 years. Ignoring it and calling European state support for setting up the industry “job creation”, is a choice. A dense & one sided one IMO.

      • Reality is if the European democracy had done their job they too would have emerged out of WWII with a solid underpinning for commercial competitiveness.

        So what you espouse then is Boeing should have told the US Government, no, we arn’t going to bid on those projects. Its just not fair to the Europeans?

        As opposed to, ok Adolph, you can have Poland but this time we really means it you got to stop?

        Clearly Boeing too advantage of its WWII work, but did they build a single jet in WWII?

        Rather than fighters they focused on their forte of bombers which in turn did lead to mastering the craft of what it takes to be a success.

        So then they should have said, well, now that we have learned all this stuff we should just fold our tent and go home?

        What you are doing is making a unbelievably weird comparison of Black Holes and Pluto comparison and trying to convince (someone ?) that there is merit.

        A valid comparison would have been Germany, France and UK getting together (no single one had the capacity of Boeing) and made 3000 bombers to protect themselves.

        The non Germanic nations made decision before WWII that lead to the trap they were in. They made the right decision to work towards commercial rebuild (initially)

        The other question you should ask yourself is what would your world look like if the US had not invested in WWII (Adolph ) as well as post WWII.

        Do you really think Stalin was a nice man?

        So in turn, what Boeing did was not based on hand outs but contracts won vs some extremely capable post WWII organization (Lockheed, Douglas, Convair , Republic, Grumman, Chance Vought)


        Over here we call this To Bad, So Sad, wah. There are some cruder ways to put it like trying to spin BS into gold.

        Shades of a Mig-15 vs a F-86. Down in flames.

  7. LNA: “When a company authorizes or sponsors a book about some major event, the book is usually a puff piece meant for the coffee table in reception.”

    That is exactly what “Legend & Legacy” by Robert J. Serling was, although it was not a coffee table book per se. Indeed it was Frank Shrontz, the then CEO of Boeing, who commissioned Serling to write the story of Boeing. Even though I did not know this when I read the book in 2011 it was obvious from the beginning: Boeing was the best company in the world and could do no wrong.

    The book “Flying High” by Eugene Rogers, which I read in 2017, delivered in my opinion a much more accurate story and shows that the problems at Boeing did not start with the Max.

    As for Airbus I would recommend the book “Airbus: The True Story” by Pierre Sparaco.

    • At $550 (no typo), I think I will pass on Airbus: The True Story.

          • 80 Euros is what I paid in 2015, but it was for the hardback. I read the book cover to cover and enjoyed every word of it. I have read many books about Airbus in the past but this one is the most complete yet.

            It is a large book that has two columns per page. I calculated that it would be approximately equivalent to a 1000 page book even when excluding the abondant illustration.

            I am sure you knew Pierre Sparaco, for he worked for Aviation Week where he was the European editor. Like you that guy was zero bullshit and he never spared the French despite the fact he was one himself.

        • I have no term for comparison, my interest would be quite recent, but I thought worth it to point out. Keep those pontifications coming, they’ll be read.

          • $50 US would be high.

            Unless there are lots of pictures that drive the publication costs up, digital printing is lower cost than ever.

            I have seen some old sci fi classics come back due to that.

        • Funny thing this Amazon in US costs 21$ but in EU costs 27€.

          • attached taxes shown or not.
            ( all pricing in EU is incl of VAT. “What the unwashed customer gets really billed in the end.” )

      • Scott, beware that prices on the Internet can be crazy unreal, some sellers have inflated ideas, some try to see what the market will bear – never mind carrying cost of inventory.

        Try Amazon, who are as variable as eBay but do own ABE used book exchange so have a source.

        Also note the value added by an autograph. For example, I know someone who has a copy of Wings Over the West, the story of Pacific Western Airlines, autographed by later president Don Watson with a note to his ace secretary.

        • Scott, I saw a copy for 11 pounds from ABE subsidiary of Amazon but it went fast.

          As noted, autographed copies are worth more, depending on how many were signed.

          Some authors have had volume signings, all over the place, whereas Dixie Lee Ray was ill when I obtained her autograph on a copy of Trashing the Planet and died a few weeks later. Her co-author Lou Guzzo (name IIRC) may have signed many more but he was not famous.

          (The book is actually against environmentalists. Despite still recovering from cold/flu she was championing getting the facts.)

          And first editions are worth much more than second printings.

          (Hard to tell long ago, even more difficult with The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, which not only was issued before clear identification of second printings and other editions but was reprinted with at least two other publisher names. After the first modest printing quantity paper became rationed in the US, so another company that had quota from printing a catalogue took over as it did not need the paper itself. IIRC its name first appeared along with the original publisher then only its name in another printing. Several thousand dollars if you find a true first edition, because of small first printing and fame of the author since then.)

          And book club editions confused things, Atlas Shrugged for example.

          • Dixie Lee Ray was a character.

            People claim she stayed in her mobile home, driving an old Jaguar XKE, while governor of WA state.

            Democratic party dumped her after first term.

            She had been a nuclear scientist or such, so was more objective than most politicians.

            Need her smarts, objectivity, and guts in airplane design and piloting.


      • $550 : Signed by by the dead fathers of Airbus ( Roger Béteille, Felix Kracht? Operating a time machine is expensive :-)))))))

  8. Any idea how much it cost Flyadeal to escape from the MAX?

    • @Grubbie: An LOI or MOU typically don’t have deposits or CXL fees. These come with firm contracts.

    • It probably didn’t cost them anything (as far as I can tell the order wasn’t finalised yet).

    • I think that in this moment of Boeing history a “dishonor” of MAX order cancellation cost much more to Boeing than anything else.

  9. “only the Vickers Viscount and Sud Aviation Caravelle were successes.”

    I thought the BAC 1-11 should also be included in the success column, selling 244 around the world including the US (and overcoming a 10% US tariff barrier I believe)

    Caravelle sold 282 and Vickers Viscount 445

    The BAC 1-11 may well have been more successful if the management at the time didn’t express the view that it would be a great success if it sold 200. What reductions in cost might there have been in tooling, design, etc had be amortized over a bigger number.

    • I thought that Concorde too ought to be counted as a “success”. Ok, not a financial success in and of itself, but arguably what it lead to has been pretty good.

      What I don’t understand is how the US manufacturers missed the two most important warnings / lessons from the Concorde programme.

      First, the Europeans were prepared to club together on it, so perhaps it would have been reasonable to assume that they might do so again on subsequent projects. In other words, the Europeans were always likely to try to develop market share.

      Second, the Europeans were prepared to use some highly sophisticated technology on civil airliners, e.g. FBW. Ok, Concorde was comparatively simple in this regard by today’s standards, but the indications were there. That it took the Europeans until the mid 1980s to do a properly fly-by-wire airliner (A320) meant that Concorde gave Boeing et al 10, 15 years’ fair warning. FBW was a technological achievement accessible to the US certainly by the late 1970s, but the US OEMs weren’t interested. Arguably Boeing – the last US OEM still operating – still hasn’t fully embraced the idea.

      Other lessons available to Boeing from the growth of Airbus include passenger comfort. There’s been the A300, 320, 330, 340, 380, 350, none of which have been cramped or unpleasant to be in, and have managed to remain so through their service lives. In contrast we’ve had nothing but a string of aircraft from Boeing that are either i) cramped (737 follow-ons, 757), or ii) too roomy such that airlines are tempted to jam in another seat (777, 787) and they end up being cramped. I know that it’s often said that comfort doesn’t sell tickets, but at the same time a little bit extra comfort and the implied inefficiency hasn’t hurt Airbus’s sales notably.

      Lastly, there’s been a reasonably steady stream of text books about systems engineering, software quality, etc. emanating from the European sphere of engineering. Arguably it’s cost Boeing dearly to not pay attention to these engineering theories, no matter where they’ve come from. It’s very difficult to change the way in which a hitherto company is run, it takes real dedication to go through constant and honest self-appraisal. So here we are today, with Boeing only recently having announced that they’re adopting a model based approach to systems engineering, something like 50, 60 years after NASA essentially pioneered such an approach.

      • Tech warnings.

        You have to look at how pervasive some tech is ( to make its acceptance in a joint developement project.)

        Really complex analog or mixed analog/digital FBW including artificial stability was not limited to the Concorde. All the German VTOL projects had it too. no “riding by your pants seat” for those.
        > https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dornier_DO-960

        • https://blog.degruyter.com/algorithms-suck-analog-computers-future/

          Maybe just making a point , but you never know especially his own example
          “Consider my own analog computer prototype, which is an example of a classic analog-electronic computer. The crisscross of wires can be described as the program of the machine. In this case it is set up to simulate the airflow around a so-called Joukowsky airfoil – not a trivial task.”

    • @Robert: BAC-111 was indeed a success.

      I hate lists….something always gets left off.

    • “Since the Europeans reentered commercial airplane production after World War II, only the Vickers Viscount and Sud Aviation Caravelle were successes.”

      Fokker sold a few F27s/F28s are their re engined variants.

    • What about the HS146 – it sold around 300 copies.

      • HS 146 ( the 4 engine one) and its variants produced 387 units and is the most successful British civil jet airliner . Only 282 Sud Caravelles were produced

        The HS 748 and its variants (ATP)produced 446 units. 1 more than the 445 Viscounts
        Fokker F27 592 plus 207 versions produced by Fairchild in US plus a further 213 Fokker F50 versions. ( all up 1012)
        Fokker F28 241 plus 283 F100
        Saab 340 around 459 built plus 63 Saab 2000
        The HP Jetstream was quite successful in its later versions but was fairly small.
        European Duds were:
        Vickers Vanguard
        Vickers VC10
        DH Comet ( around 125 produced)
        Nord 262
        Dassault Mercure
        VFW 614
        Handley Page Herald

        • Not to forget the Dornier 328 with 217 built plus 110 Dornier 328 Jet.

          Another sort of dud was the Bristol Brittania with 110 plus 72 Canadair variants.
          A lot of these were in an earlier era when even 150 sold was seen as reasonable and often 200 or so was a success but barely covering development costs.

  10. In terms of success, the only one that counts is commercial airliner sales.

    Those in turn should be compared to the most successful model of the type (single aisle in the early cases).

    Technological success (Concorde) simply do not count though they can be influence in latter success (you learn tech and from your mistakes on markets)

    • No, success is measured in terms of your goals. Concorde may not have been s commercial success but the neither was the Apollo moon program. If one of the Concorde programs goals was to further European aviation that can be s success without commercial success.

      • I clearly said commercial airliners, so yes, success means a program that sells in numbers and makes money.

        The only metric of success for a commercial airliner is sales. Technology take the back end though in the case of Comet and 707 and after, the success was due to the break through in jet engine and airframes.

        To be successful post 1950, commercial airlines had a need for higher tech – as the old plodding noisy prop jobs did not cut it (turbo props while better still did not do it – that is why the jump to jets was made)

        The DC-3 was a huge success for its day, it introduced the modern aircraft form and architecture for the time and it did the mission so it sold well.

        The Boeing 247 was poorly executed in comparisons and was not.

        The DC-6 was a success for its time. The DC-7 was not as its horribly complicated engines meant huge maint and high rate of failure (Connie as well).

        Concord was a tech success that lead no where, its goal was to be a commercial success and it was a failure.

        The SR-71 was a success at its mission of a spy plane. It was not a commercial airline success.

        Moon mission has nothign to do with commercial airline success in any way shape or form.

        • The DC3 was a success yes, helped by WW2, but the real innovator came before that with the Boeing 247. Boeing was the one that introduced the modern features, replacing the previous leading plane as shown by the Ford Trimotor. Thinking of the ‘modern form’ that would the first true airliner the 1919 Junkers F13, with just over 300 built helped by Junkers innovative financing arrangements including lease.

          • Its not the form, its who hit it out of the ballpark.

            As interesting as the F13 was, its time had not come (blind navigation and air routes flown IFR had to come along)

            The DC-3 was setting the standard and selling well before WWII hit.

            WWII was really nothing more than production for the military no different than fighters and bombers though it set up Douglas to be competitor post WWII with the DC-6 and sort of 7 but the knock out was the DC-8.

          • @Transworld:
            “As interesting as the F13 was, its time had not come (blind navigation and air routes flown IFR had to come along)”

            You should increase your knowledge of early post WWI commercial flying. For a start look at the route network serviced by “Junkers Luftverkehr AG”. At the time the world leader.

          • And the first Jumbo jet was the 747.
            The Bristol Brabazon had a larger diameter ( circular) fuselage , 25ft than the 747 and a similar wingspan( 747-8 224ft) vs Brabazon 230ft.
            It contained all sorts of innovations for the time ( ‘one of the innovative features of the Brabazon was a purpose-developed gust-alleviation system, which used an assortment of servos that were triggered from a gust-sensing probe installed on the exterior of the aircraft’s nose’) and flew in Sept 1949.

        • “The only metric of success for a commercial airliner is sales. Technology take the back end .. ”

          We’ve seen that stance come to a perfect cusp on the 737MAX.

          Einstein: make your model as simple as possible but not simpler.
          If you oversimplify the result is a caricature of reality. Quite often painted over by PR and folklore over a limited period.

        • Transworld says
          “In terms of success, the only one that counts is commercial airliner sales.” – so military versions dont count.
          Yet DC3 civil versions built were only 600 , the military Skytrain C47 version ( and derivatives) was over 13,000. So all those planes ‘dont count’ as they were built for military. It doesnt make sense to to it this way as its the same plane, but that goes for say Lockheed Orion P3 too.

          As Boeing was only going to sell its 247 model to United first , TWA asked Douglas to build a ‘copy’ the DC1/DC2, then the overnight sleeper version ( DC3 or XWB!) with 92 in instead of 66in cabin width

  11. You seem to ignore that US alone has a similar size and population to all Western Europe, and had one government and military as opposed to many in Europe. Many times the old CAB worked with politicians and manufacturers to stymie orders for innovative European planes( example given at top with Kennedy phone call regarding Pan Am Concorde order, but there were others)..

    • So what you are saying is Pan Am should have gone into the toiler to support a non viable product like the Concorde?

      Western Europe can organize as well as the US did. If you don’t think the original 13 colonies were not a squabbling rabble you don’t know US history.

      Clearly Europe has opted for the appearance of a deference and not the reality. That is far less to do with population and more to do with political pandering.

      Granted the US has allowed the co-dependency to occur, but as you are seeing, you get one (flake as the Brit ambassador so aptly put it) and ??????

      Europe has both the numbers and economy to deal with the Russians all by themselves, they just don’t have the will.

      In future years dealing with the Chinese is going to take massive efforts. And if you look at their economies, they are flim flam – the only strong one is China itself. Japan is technically capable but in permanent stasis, Singapore is one of the few that has its act together .

      • They didnt know that it would have the later troubles at that stage …before first flight. Remember this is JFK blasting the head of FAA over Pan Ams order.
        The US had its own government sponsored project – Boeing, although the Lockheed one would have had a better chance of flying.
        Even good projects like the Viscount , BAC 1-11 and so on had active US government disapproval , and in a highly regulated era under the CAB that could cause trouble.

  12. The Airbus story is a cautionary tale for other large state visions. Be it a EU or Chinese vision to go up against the Social Media giants like Twitter, Facebook etc.
    De Havilland built and launched the Comet at odds with the Brabazon plans and could have been a world beater, and could have produced the plane to beat. Airbus would likely not have existed had the Comet not had its problems. Had the British government provided DH the resources that Airbus received, the airliner world today would look very different. Anyway, respect to Airbus today, they have a great product lineup with a very strong brand.

    • Brabazon plnas were this
      Type I: a very large, long-range landplane for the North Atlantic route.
      Type II: an economical replacement for the Douglas DC-3 for European services.
      Type III: a four-engined, medium-range landplane for the Empire routes.
      Type IV: the most advanced of them all, a jet-propelled mailplane for the North Atlantic.
      Type V: a twin-engined, fourteen-passenger feederliner.

      The Type IV was the Comet. remember the committee report was produced in 1943 so was still pre war thinking in roles , hence ‘mailplane’ when the later 1945 report came out it was a 100 seater as well, at De havillands urging.
      There was a larger jet transport the Avro 693 which was being looked at in this era but didnt proceed. ( Type III)

  13. It will be interesting how much longer Airbus lasts. The french are taking over, the basis of what airbus was about ( the four nations working with there different culture together ) is now lost, the board is now primarily french, the french want to employ 5000 people in toulouse while reducing numbers outside France. Airbus is becoming a production company losing the technical ability to design a new aircraft. With the french in charge it will be red tape, processes, no pragmatism, no innovation, no agility, and ultimately turning into a citroen, renault car company. At least boeing has something new on the drawing board to help preserve skills for the future. Airbus is controlled by program and cost now………………….bye bye

    • @Analyst: It turns out the decision was made (unbeknown to me) before the review was published.

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