While the flight and ground tests of the A300B2 continued, Airbus began talking to Korean Airlines about producing a longer-range version, the B4. Airbus saw South-East Asia as a vital market ready to be opened up and Korean Airlines were the key. A year later, in September, 1974, Korean Airlines duly signed a contract to buy four A300B4s, with two options, becoming Airbus’ first non-European customer – a statement of faith which showed Airbus could win orders outside its home territory. (Following the first Air France order, Lufthansa had ordered three A300s with four options.)
French and German type certification for the A300 was obtained in March, 1974. And on 23 May, the first A300 to go into service made its initial commercial flight from Paris to London for Air France. Its economy, efficiency and technological standards in comparison to its rivals, the American tri-jets, were impressive. As Adam Brown, the former Vice President-Customer Affairs Directorate, put it: “An element of Airbus policy right from the start has been not to incorporate new technologies for their own sake but to carefully select meaningful applications which produce clear pay-offs in safety, operational capability and profitability benefits. This approach enabled the A300, when it entered service, to offer airlines a 20 per cent saving in direct operating costs per trip relative to the competing tri-jets.”
Another factor, beyond the control of Airbus, contributed to the growing recognition among airlines that the A300 offered valuable economic advantages over its rivals. Not only did having one less engine considerably reduce the capital cost involved in buying the aircraft, but the A300’s fuel efficiency became increasingly important as the 1973 oil crisis began to bite and prices soared.