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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Today in History: Airbus A300 Maiden Flight 1972

On October 28, 1972 the A300 made its maiden flight. The first production model, the A300B2, entered service in 1974 followed by the A300B4 one year later. 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 1987 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' 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.

The A300 cemented European cooperation in aviation. Its first flight was commemorated on a French three franc stamp.

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).The largest freight operator of the A300 is FedEx Express, which, as of June 2010, had 71 A300/310 aircraft. UPS Airlines 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[2] making them the first Airbus aircraft to be discontinued. The final production A300 made its initial flight on 18 April 2007[3] 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.

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