The Airbus A300 is a short- to medium-range widebody aircraft. Launched in 1972 as the world's first twin-engined widebody, it was the first product of the Airbus consortium of European aerospace companies, wholly owned today by EADS. The A300 ceased production in July 2007, along with the smaller A310. Freighter sales for which the A300 competed are to be fulfilled by a new A330-200F derivative.
The mission requirements were given in 1966 by Frank Kolk, an American Airlines executive, for a Boeing 727 replacement on busy short- to medium-range routes such as US transcontinental flights. His brief included a passenger capacity of 250 to 300 seated in a twin-aisle configuration and fitted with two engines, with the capability of carrying full passengers without penalty from high-altitude airports like Denver. American manufacturers responded with widebody trijets, the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 and the Lockheed L-1011 Tristar, as twinjets were banned from many routes by the FAA.
French president Charles de Gaulle resented the US domination of civil aviation and wanted a European airliner that could compete with American designs. Concorde was part of the answer, designed for intercontinental routes; the other was the A300, designed to meet Kolk's US domestic requirements.
In September 1967, the British, French, and German governments signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to start development of the 300-seat Airbus A300. An earlier announcement had been made in July 1967, but at that time the announcement had been clouded by the British Government's support for the Airbus, which coincided with its refusal to back British Aircraft Corporation's (BAC) proposed competitor, a development of the BAC 1-11 — despite a preference for the latter expressed by British European Airways (BEA).
In the months following this agreement, both the French and British governments expressed doubts about the aircraft. Another problem was the requirement for a new engine to be developed by Rolls-Royce, the RB207. In December 1968, the French and British partner companies (Sud Aviation and Hawker Siddeley) proposed a revised configuration, the 250-seat Airbus A250. Renamed the A300B, the aircraft would not require new engines, reducing development costs. To attract potential US customers, American General Electric CF6-50 engines powered the A300 instead of the British RB207. The British government was upset and withdrew from the venture; however, the British firm Hawker-Siddeley stayed on as a contractor, developing the wings for the A300, which were pivotal in later versions' impressive performance from short domestic to long intercontinental flights. (Years later, through British Aerospace, the UK re-entered the consortium.)
Airbus Industrie was formally set up in 1970 following an agreement between Aérospatiale (France), the antecedents to Deutsche Aerospace (Germany) . They were to be joined by the Spanish CASA in 1971. Each company would deliver its sections as fully equipped, ready-to-fly items.
In 1972 the A300 made its maiden flight. 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 established 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.
The A300 was the first airliner to use just-in-time manufacturing techniques. Complete aircraft sections were manufactured by consortium partners all over Europe. These were airlifted to the final assembly line at Toulouse-Blagnac by a fleet of Boeing 377-derived Aero Spacelines Super Guppy aircraft. Originally devised as a way to share the work among Airbus's partners without the expense of two assembly lines, it turned out to be a more efficient way of building airplanes (more flexible and reduced costs) as opposed to building the whole airplane at one site. This fact was not lost on Boeing, which, over thirty years later, decided to manufacture the Boeing 787 in this manner, using outsized 747s to ferry wings and other parts from Japan.
The A300 cemented European cooperation in aviation. Its first flight was commemorated on a French three franc stamp.
Airbus partners employed the latest technology, some derived from the Concorde. On entry into service in 1974, the A300 was very advanced and influenced later subsonic 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 controls
222-inch 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
Later A300s incorporate other advanced features such as
2-man crew by automating the flight engineer's functions, an industry first
Glass cockpit flight instruments
Extensive use of composites for an aircraft of its era
Center-of-gravity control by shifting around fuel
The first airliner to use wingtip fences for better aerodynamics
All these made the A300 a substitute for the widebody trijets such as McDonnell Douglas DC-10 and Lockheed L-1011 for short to medium routes. On the early versions, Airbus used the same engines and similar major systems as the DC-10.
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. At one stage, Airbus had 16 "whitetail" A300s – completed but unsold aircraft – sitting on the tarmac. Indian Airlines was the world's first domestic airline to purchase the A300. These have now been retired.
In 1977, U.S. carrier Eastern Air Lines leased four A300s as an in-service trial. Frank Borman, ex-astronaut and the then CEO, was impressed that the A300 consumed 30% less fuel than his fleet of Tristars and then ordered 23 of the type. This was followed by an order from Pan Am. From then on, the A300 family sold rather well, eventually reaching the current total of 858 on order or delivered.
The aircraft found particular favour with Asian airlines, being bought by Japan Air System, Korean Air, 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 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. 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.
The A300 provided Airbus the experience of manufacturing and selling airliners competitively. The basic fuselage of the A300 was later stretched (A330 and A340), shrunk (A310), or modified into derivatives (A300-600ST Beluga Super Transporter).
The A300 has reached the end of production, and the last A300 freighter has been completed and delivered. The largest freight operator of the A300 is FedEx, which, as of January 2006, had 95 A300/310 aircraft. United Parcel Service (UPS) also operates 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. 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.
In March 2006 Airbus announced the closure of the A300/A310 line making them the first Airbus aircraft to be discontinued. The final production A300 made its initial flight on 18 April 2007 and was delivered on 12 July 2007. It was an A300F freighter for FedEx. Airbus has announced a support package to keep A300s flying commercially until at least 2025.
A300B1 Only two were built: the first prototype, and a second aircraft which was later sold for airline service (to Air Algérie) and has now been scrapped. It has accommodation for 259 passengers with a maximum weight of 132,000 kg and two General Electric CF6-50A engines of 220 kN thrust.
A300B2 The first production version. Powered by CF6 or Pratt & Whitney JT9D engines of between 227 and 236 kN thrust, it entered service with Air France in May 1974.
A300B2-100: 137 Metric Ton MTOW
A300B2-200: 142 Metric Ton MTOW, with Kruger flaps
A300B2-300: increased Maximum Landing Weight/Maximum Zero Fuel Weight
A300B4 The major production version. Features a center fuel tank for increased fuel capacity (47,500 kg). Production of the B2 and B4 totaled 248.
A300B4-100: 157.5 Metric Ton MTOW
A300B4-200: 165 Metric Ton MTOW
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 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.
A300F4-203: 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: A300F4-600F).
A300-600: Officially designated A300B4-600, this version is the same length as the B2 and B4 but has increased space because it uses the A310 rear fuselage and tail. It has higher power CF6-80 or Pratt & Whitney PW4000 engines and entered service in 1983 with Saudi Arabian Airlines. A total of 313 A300-600s (all versions) have been sold.
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 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 July 12 2007 (last ever A300 delivery) were A300-600RFs.
A300-600ST: Commonly referred to as the 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.
A300B10 (A310) Introduced a shorter fuselage, a new, higher aspect ratio wing, smaller tail and two crew operation. It is available in standard -200 and the Extended range -300 with 9,600 km range in both passenger and full cargo versions. It is also available as a military tanker/transport serving the Canadian Forces and Luftwaffe. Sales total 260, although five of these (ordered by Iraqi Airways) were never built.