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The family grows (1988-1991)

Perfect timing

As is often the way with the cyclical nature of the aircraft industry, by the time the A320 entered service in 1988 the world economy had recovered from the earlier recession and, much to the delight of Airbus, demand for new aircraft was booming.

At the end of 1984, the consortium had obtained 411 firm orders from 50 customers, with 282 aircraft in service. By the end of 1988 firm orders stood at more than 900 from more 74 customers, with more than 450 aircraft delivered. Two years later the number of delivered aircraft had reached more than 650 to over 100 customers, and there were 1,700 firm orders booked. Airbus was continuing to build on its success, each year gaining marketshare in one of the most aggressively-contested industries in the world.

Introducing the A330 and A340

The long-range A340 is the first four-engine jetliner ever produced by Airbus.
The long-range A340 is the first four-engine jetliner ever produced by Airbus.

With the A320 unveiled to the world, Airbus now pressed on with plans to build the medium to long-range A330 twin and longer-range A340 four-engine aircraft. These were launched jointly in June, 1987, just four months after the A320’s first flight. Again, Airbus showed remarkable ingenuity in launching two aircraft together. It was the world’s first combined aircraft programme, with both models sharing the same basic fuselage, wing and tail. As ever, hard, practical logic was at work. The A330 and A340 offered extensive commonality of cockpit systems, not only between themselves, but with the A320 – and, later, with other members of the A320 Family still to come. This made possible the Airbus concepts of cross crew qualification – pilots trained to fly one Airbus aircraft can qualify to operate another with relatively little extra training - and mixed fleet flying, in which airlines are able to switch their Airbus aircraft and their pilot crews at short notice to better match capacity to demand. 

The ultra long-range A340-300, able to seat 295 in a three-class configuration and fly 7,150 nautical miles/13,200 kilometres, was rolled out in October, 1991. (A shorter version, the A340-200, could carry 262 passengers over 7,750nm/14,400km.) The medium to long-range A330, carrying 335 passengers in two classes, followed a year later. The Airbus family was growing but in a measured, considered fashion. As it continued to build up marketshare, Airbus followed the policy initiated by Roger Béteille of always listening to customers when designing and developing new aircraft and bringing new technology to the industry. Accordingly Airbus tailored both new aircraft to meet the specific needs of its customers, with a special emphasis on economy, fuel efficiency and – crucial to long-range operations – cabin comfort. Indeed, Airbus maintains that the A340 offers “the quietest cabin in the sky”. 

The A330 marked another milestone with the first Rolls-Royce engine – the Trent 700 - on an Airbus aircraft, one of three engine types offered to customers.

Top-level changes

While Airbus got on with the business of designing, building, selling and – with increasing effectiveness – supporting its aircraft, changes were taking place at the very top. In Germany in 1989 Daimler-Benz took over MBB, the consortium which had run Deutsche Airbus since the beginning, forming Daimler Aerospace SA, or DASA. Bernard Lathière had taken up a place on the Airbus Industrie supervisory board as vice chairman. Roger Béteille had retired in 1985. Franz Josef Strauss, who remained chairman of the supervisory board until his death in 1988, said at the time: “His technical, commercial and management skills were unanimously recognised by the world aviation community, and it is only fair to say that if one single person deserves the title ‘father of Airbus’ it is Roger Béteille.”

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