The weighty language of the declaration concealed the economic reality behind the decision. In reaching this agreement, the three nations were acknowledging a simple truth: that without a joint programme of aircraft development and production, Europe would be left trailing in the wake of the Americans, who dominated the industry – and, with the planned long-range 747 “jumbo” on the horizon, looked set to consolidate their supremacy. The proud European firms which had produced some of the world’s best passenger aircraft and pioneered commercial jet travel would become little more than sub-contractors to American manufacturers. Hundreds of thousands of jobs could be at risk and European airlines would be dependent on the United States for new aircraft.
Until this point Europe’s aviation industry had remained strongly rooted in nationality. The British had built the Comet, the BAC1-11 and the Trident, among others. The French had produced the Caravelle. Together the two countries had built the world’s first supersonic airliner, Concorde.
But Concorde was the product of a political dream. It was never going to be the saviour of the European aircraft industry because it was highly expensive to build and operate and catered for relatively few people.
The idea behind the short-haul European airbus, on the other hand, was to capitalise on the dawning of a boom in popular air travel. More people wanted to fly, and for less.