As a boy, I used to watch the Airbus A300s cruise in over the suburbs to land in Sydney. When I was older, I got to fly in them occasionally. Although lacking the technological specs and creature comforts of contemporary planes, flying on an A300 was always a big deal.
But the aircraft type fell by the wayside. Production was discontinued in 2007. However, the A300 remains a plane of interesting and significant historical merit. The A300 was integral to the creation of Airbus. It also formed the template for contemporary mid-size Airbus aircraft like the A330 and A340. In the long list of aircraft types ever built, the A300 is an important but often overlooked plane.
A new aircraft type for a very different world
Airbus built 561 A300s between 1972 and 2007. When first launched, the A300 was the world’s first medium-sized twin-engine airliner. The market was less crowded then and the plane slotted nicely between Boeing’s 737 and bigger 747. But as that market became more crowded (Boeing introduced its similarly sized 767 in 1981), the older Airbus A300 founded itself comprehensively outmatched and outpaced.
Airbus acknowledges the A300 had a slow start. But the plane went on to be a market leader in short to medium-haul passenger operations. At the time, the A300 was relatively unusual because its wide body and raised cabin floor meant it could carry passengers and significant amounts of cargo at the same time. The aircraft had two engines rather than the typical three engines of that era. That saved airlines money.
The way the A300 was built was also innovative for the era. Airbus used composite structures. The manufacturer developed and tinkered with wingtips to reduce drag. Airbus also advanced electrical signaling for secondary controls. The A300 was the first aircraft made to seriously challenge North America’s then aircraft building supremacy.
Why hasn’t the A300 become a household name?
Why didn’t the A300 became a long-running smash hit for Airbus the way the 737, 767, and 747s programs have for Boeing? Why isn’t the A300 a household name? Except for the Airbus A380, Boeing does a far better job of marketing its planes in the public domain.
There’s a stronger culture of promotion in North American, which makes a difference in how an aircraft type is remembered. Boeing even makes sure everyone can recall the world’s most boring plane by nicknaming it the Dreamliner. For better or worse, Airbus has never ventured down that path.
However, there’s a lot more to the fall of the A300 than inferior marketing. Airbus was creating a new market for its A300; the mid-size short to medium-haul plane market. To an extent, that helps explain why sales were slow. Then, after a decade spent carving out that market and arguably doing all the hard work, Boeing swooped in with its own mid-sized plane, the 767.
Outclassed and outmatched by Boeing’s 767
Was the 767 a better plane? Over time there have been different models of both planes, and improvements were made. However, at the start, the Airbus A300 and Boeing 767 specs were relatively similar. But Boeing has sold more than twice the number of 767s than Airbus sold A300s. Boeing’s plane, first built in 1981, remains in production today.
Ultimately, the market decided the fate of the A300. But there was an upside for Airbus. The competition made Airbus focus on new planes. The competition gave rise to the A330 and A340. The A340 has had its hurdles, but the A330 is a terrific plane and still going strong. If you like, the A330 is an improvement on the A300 – it flies more people further. While it’s always a shame to lose one plane, in the case of the A300, a better plane was born out of the loss.