Roger Béteille and Henri Ziegler knew that if Airbus was to succeed it would have to crack the lucrative U.S. market. They decided on a courageous move – to take the A300 on a six-week odyssey across South and North America which would show the U.S. airlines what they would miss if they failed to buy. It was to prove perhaps the most unusual sales expedition ever undertaken by an aircraft manufacturer. On board were the crews, sales team, engineers and spares needed for the trip. The A300 was also loaded with crates of the best champagne for the thousands of guests invited to view the aircraft at stopovers.
The A300 took off from Toulouse in September, 1973, for Dakar in West Africa and then flew across the Atlantic to Sao Paulo, Brazil. It went on to Florida, where it touched down on North American soil for the first time, and then to Mexico City and Chicago. Felix Kracht recalled: “The whole world thought we were mad because we arranged it without any support from abroad. But the trip went without a hitch and left a very good impression. It helped us a great deal.” In fact there was one small incident – a birdstrike caused minor damage to one of the engines, which had to be replaced in Chicago. But even then, the speed and ease of the replacement operation served to impress watching U.S. airlines that Airbus product support was up to the mark.
Another benefit to emerge from this imaginative adventure was that the A300 had made a strong impression on Frank Borman, the former Apollo astronaut who then headed Eastern Airlines, one of America’s “big four.” Within three years Borman’s support for Airbus would prove crucial to the consortium’s survival and help establish the basis for future success.