With a 50-year track record of innovation, technological firsts and industry milestones, Airbus is a leader in designing, manufacturing and delivering aerospace products, services and solutions to a customer base that spans the globe – with operations for commercial aircraft, helicopters, defence, space and security.
Take a journey through some of the highlights of our company from the past 50 years, and learn more about Airbus’ continuing success story with the extensive 'History In Depth' pages below.
1960s | Laying the foundations
This medium-weight twin-engine was the first of a long series that has been built in various versions down to the present day.
The second prototype of the Gazelle (SA 341) made its first flight on 12 April 1968, and featured a Fenestron tail rotor fairing.
Commercial aviation took a supersonic leap into the future with Concorde’s maiden flight, which was captained by André Turcat.
29 May 1969
The A300 programme was launched with a milestone agreement signed by French Transport Minister Jean Chamant and German Economics Minister Karl Schiller at the 1969 Paris Airshow, to build a commercial aircraft that was smaller, lighter and more economical than its three-engine American rivals.
A large part of the company’s initial success can be traced back to Béteille: a believer in European cooperation, he joined Airbus still in its “preliminary” stage. Béteille’s first proposal of work-sharing (to have aircraft parts such as elements of the fuselage, the wing root and the wings produced by different entities) is still in place today. Béteille’s involvement in the A300 programme ensured the aircraft would match the needs of airline customers, and not just manufacturers’ ideas. Béteille retired from the company in 1985; the final assembly building for the Airbus A350 XWB in Toulouse is named after him.
He is at the origin of the design for the SE3120 (Alouette I) and the SE 3130 Alouette II (the first turbine helicopter), and the Alouette III in 1958; the Super Frelon in 1962; the Puma in 1964; the Gazelle in 1967; and the Dauphin and Ecureuil in the 1970s. In 1963, he was nominated Engineer-in-Chief of the helicopter division of Sud Aviation. With over 40 patents to his name, Mouille was instrumental in pushing the barriers of helicopter technology, such as with the hub NAT (Non-Articulated Drag) with visco-elastic dampers, as well as the famous Fenestron© shrouded tail rotor and the Starflex main rotor. He also invented the SARIB suspension system. The inventions by Mouille and his collaborators are still widely used in the helicopter industry today.
MBB was an aerospace manufacturer that was later bought by Deutsche Aerospace AG, which is now part of Airbus. Bölkow was the key figure in the design of the world's first jet fighter, the Me 262, and was leading the rebuilding of the German aviation industry following the Second World War. Bölkow was awarded the Ludwig-Prandtl-Ring from the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Luft- und Raumfahrt (German Society for Aeronautics and Astronautics) for "outstanding contribution in the field of aerospace engineering" in 1972. He was awarded a Gold Medal by the British Royal Aeronautical Society in 1978.
1970s | European Collaboration
France’s Aerospatiale (a merger of SEREB, Sud Aviation and Nord Aviation), and Germany’s Deutsche Airbus – a grouping of four firms.
Developed by Airbus predecessor CASA, the C212 has been used in charter and short-haul cargo roles, for search and rescue missions, and various military applications.
The Dauphin was originally designed as the successor to the Alouette III and was to be called the "Business Alouette".
The first flight of the A300 took place in Toulouse on 28 October 1972, a month ahead of schedule despite several delays due to bad weather.
A300 embarks on a six-week sales expedition across North and South America to show off Airbus’ new creation to customers, pilots and executives.
Helios-A and Helios-B were the first space probes produced outside of the U.S. and the Soviet Union to leave Earth orbit, with their launches in 1974 and 1976.
Initial commercial flights for Air France were from Paris to London.
The MRCA prototype, later known as the Tornado, took its maiden flight at Manching.
Symphonie was the first European communications satellite system launched into orbit aboard an American Delta rocket.
Meteosat, the first European weather satellite and the basis for Airbus’ competence in meteorological platforms. Built by an industrial consortium, the prototype Meteosat-1 was launched in 1977 on a U.S. Delta rocket..
After the breakthrough agreement with Eastern Airlines, there followed a series of orders that confirmed Airbus as a serious contender in the global aircraft manufacturing industry.
The AS332 Super Puma, featuring anti-crash fuel tanks, which offered military users new guarantees in terms of survivability and, in time, all the customers of the range would benefit from these improvements.
The precursor to the EC145, the BK117 was a 50:50 joint venture by MBB and Kawasaki.
The first Ariane 1 was launched in 1979 from the Guiana Space Centre, providing the framework for a family of vehicles that were to become a benchmark in the world’s launch service industry.
1980s | New stars are born
Delivery of the first A300 FFCC jetliner version, received by Indonesian airline Garuda, incorporating the Forward-Facing Crew Cockpit configuration, which enabled a two-pilot crew to fly the aircraft without the need for a flight engineer.
The “Airbus Family” began with the shorter-fuselage A310 and longer-range A300. Lufthansa and Swissair were the first carriers.
Spacelab, built in Bremen by MBB-Erno as prime contractor, starts its first journey into space on board the Columbia space shuttle. The command and data managament subsystem CDMS was developed by MATRA.
Developed jointly by CASA and IPTN, the CN235 has highly diverse applications, covering the spectrum from airline flights, patrol and anti-drug trafficking to cargo, VIP duties and special missions.
A series of high-performance communications satellites suited to a full range of communications missions – including links with fixed ground stations, mobile services, broadcast and broadband.
With the groundbreaking Fly-by-wire technology, the A320 Family would go on to record spectacular sales success, becoming the best-selling jetliner aircraft family ever.
The Bo108 took off with the most up-to-date technology, including a composite structure, new vibration absorbers, and ultra-modern avionics with screens.
The first Ariane 4 flew in June 1988 from the Guiana Space Centre in French Guiana, performing 113 successful launches and capturing 50% of the commercial satellite launch services marketplace.
Jean Pierson was a French engineer and industrialist , having participated in the Concorde programme and the development of Airbus as one of its historical leaders. Pierson championed the spirit of Airbus which summed up the organisation’s essence from its beginnings to the present day: “The determination of the partners to keep the damaging demons of intra-European rivalry at bay was a key factor in the success of Airbus Industrie. It is in the interests of Europe that this determination should prevail. If there could be one lesson…it would be that co-operation is the key to prosperity and that there simply is room no more for narrow nationalistic endeavours.”
1990s | Expanding frontiers
The ultra long-range four engined 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.
Carrying 335 passengers in two classes, the A330 marked another milestone with the first Rolls-Royce engine – the Trent 700 - on an Airbus aircraft.
The extremely capable, flexible and versatile swing-role front-line fighter aircraft flew for the first time.
The first helicopter in the Eurocopter range and successor to the BO108. The most important addition to the EC135 is its Fenestron® tail rotor.
The Beluga was the successor to the Super Guppy transporter for Airbus components.
With this helicopter, Eurocopter extends its range to include 1.5 metric tonne machines.
Airbus Industrie sets up Large Aircraft Division, to develop the super jumbo A3XX, later designated the A380.
The maiden flight took place at the Eurocopter plant in Marignane, France in the presence of military and governmental representatives from France, Italy, Germany and the Netherlands (the nations participating in the NH90 Programme).
As of early 2019, the heavy-lift vehicle had been launched more than 100 times from the Guiana Space Centre in French Guiana. Its payload lift capability has evolved from the initial 6,900 kg. in geostationary transfer orbit to an enhanced performance of 10,000 kg., along with a capacity of 20 tonnes into low Earth orbit.
Originally designed for the deployment of forces, the C295 can transport over nine tonnes of troops or cargo. Further developed from the CN235, it has a longer fuselage and more powerful engines.
The contract marked a decisive step towards production of Tiger, with an initial batch of 160 helicopters (80 for Germany and 80 for France) to be procured.
The EC145 offers an increased maximum takeoff weight and payload capacity as well as a modern cockpit identical to that of the EC135.
This new member of the Ecureuil/AStar family offers more cabin space, extensive visibility and a reduced sound level.
2000s | A new era begins
"Day One" as the official start of operations for EADS
The merger of the Franco-British company Matra Marconi Space with the space activites of Daimler-Chrysler Aerospace leads to the foundation of Astrium
This version will be able to carry a higher military payload, and will also have an increased civil range of action compared to the MK2 version of the Cougar / Super Puma.
Captain Bernd Schaefer confirmed that the aircraft handled as anticipated on its maiden flight, which kicked off the A318 flight test campaign.
Mars Express lifted off in June 2003. After arriving at Mars, data from this planetary orbiter helped answer questions about the geology, atmosphere, surface environment, history of water and potential for life on the planet.
With the first flight performed in December 2009, the A400M developed for tactical and strategic missions – along with force-projection through aerial refuelling – Airbus set the bar high in terms of technical and programme complexity.
The Columbus site will mainly focus on the assembly and customisation of the helicopters sold by American Eurocopter to local and federal government organisations for military operations, homeland security and other parapublic missions.
Through the years Airbus has supported international aid organisations in regions affected by natural disasters. We bring our products and resources, from relief flights to satellite imagery and helicopter hours, to emergency responders to help alleviate some of the world's most pressing challenges.
The world's largest and most modern passenger jet is unveiled to the public. Later that year it would complete its maiden flight.
This tremendous achievement breaks the world record for the highest altitude landing and takeoff ever, which sets an ultimate milestone in the history of aviation.
Airbus strengthened its foothold in China, with an order of 150 A320 family aircraft, the largest order in Airbus history so far, and a new engineering centre to be set up
Observation data provided by Metop enable precise weather forecasting, better prediction of natural disasters, and measurements for issues such as climate change, progressive melting of polar ice and rise in sea levels.
U.S. Army selects the UH-72A Lakota version of the EC145 rotorcraft as the military service’s Light Utility Helicopter. More than 400 have been supplied to the U.S. Army and Navy, with production performed at a facility in Mississippi.
Based on the successful A330-200 airliner, the A330 MRTT is the benchmark for new-generation multi-role tanker/transport.
The Columbus science laboratory was launched aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis on February 7, 2008 and docked at the International Space Station (ISS).
Airbus expanded its industrial network by creating a new A320 final assembly line in Tianjin, China – the company’s first outside of Europe.
The Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV), a servicing spacecraft for the ISS with the delivery of propellant, water, air, payload and experiment equipment.
In 1998, Mr. Brégier became CEO of Matra BAe Dynamics. He was appointed CEO of MBDA, the leading European missile systems company that was created in 2001 by Aerospatiale Matra, British Aerospace and Finmeccanica. In 2003, Fabrice Brégier became President and CEO of the Eurocopter Group and was appointed Head of EADS’ Eurocopter Division in June 20. Mr. Brégier was appointed Airbus Chief Operating Officer (COO) in October 2006. As a Member of the EADS Executive Committee, he was commissioned by Louis Gallois to improve the overall operational performance of the Group. From 2012 – 2018, Fabrice Brégier served as President of Airbus Commercial Aircraft.
2010s | We make it fly
The EC145 T2 was developed with major innovations such as the dual AFCS, reducing pilot’s workload, particularly in difficult weather or mission conditions.
The X3 is a high-speed hybrid helicopter developed to perform vertical takeoffs and landings and obtain cruising speeds of approximately 220 kts.
Beginning with a milestone order: Virgin America’s acquisition of 60 A320s, Airbus hits above its 10,000th order mark. Also in January 2011, Airbus signed a Memorandum of Understanding with IndiGo for 180 A320s.
Eurocopter signs up for leadership in a European compound rotorcraft demonstration project through the Clean Sky 2 initiative.
Airbus’ newest and most efficient jetliner – the A350 XWB – conducted its highly successful maiden flight from Toulouse-Blagnac Airport.
Gaia – an Airbus-designed and-built space surveyor for ESA – is to compile a 3D space catalogue of more than 1,000 million stars, or approximately roughly 1% of the stars in the Milky Way.
EADS was renamed Airbus Group (which later in 2017 renamed to Airbus). Eurocopter becomes Airbus Helicopters. The rebranding marks a new era in the history of the company as it joins Airbus and Airbus Defence & Space within the new Airbus Group.
The highly-efficient aircraft with new engine option along with standard Sharklets, will deliver a 15% fuel burn reduction to carriers.
Launched in 2004, the Rosetta spacecraft spent 10 years on a voyage of more than six billion kilometres to reach and study the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.
The facility joins existing final assembly lines in Hamburg; Toulouse; and Tianjin, China, boosting the production of the best-selling single-aisle aircraft family.
The H160 is unveiled on Airbus Helicopters’ Heli-Expo booth in Orlando, Florida. Its first flight took place in Marignane (France) on June 13, 2015.
Airbus formally launched its first global aerospace business accelerator Airbus BizLab – located in Toulouse, France, with a second site at Hamburg, Germany.
This ESA technology demonstrator mission is one of the most ambitious scientific undertakings to date: proving key elements of Einstein’s theory of general relativity.
A year of milestones, including service introductions of the A320neo; first deliveries of the latest A330 Family member tailored for regional routes; start of final assembly for the A330neo; and its 10,000th overall delivery.
Galileo, the global navigation satellite system (GNSS) went live in 2016. From the beginning of Galileo through 2018, Airbus was prime contractor for the satellite navigation system’s ground control segment.
Powered by latest-generation Rolls-Royce Trent 7000 engines, the A330neo will expand operators’ market opportunities with a range capability increase of approximately 400 nautical miles while carrying more payload.
The landmark industrial agreement between Airbus and Dassault Aviation envisions a “system of systems” – composed of next-generation fighter aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles, future cruise missiles and drones, and military services.
Airbus Helicopters started autonomous flight trials of a VSR700 Optionally Piloted Vehicle (OPV) demonstrator, without safety pilot on December 20, 2018.
A milestone partnership between Airbus and Canada’s Bombardier took effect in July with Airbus acquiring a majority stake in the C Series Aircraft Limited Partnership.
Airbus’ next-generation super airlifter – performed its maiden flight on 19 July in Toulouse.
Launched on an Ariane 5 in October, the BepiColombo to research the solar system’s smallest and least-explored terrestrial planet – Mercury.
As of early 2019, more than 530 orders were placed for A220 aircraft. Airbus is to open a new assembly line for the aircraft at its U.S. manufacturing facility in Mobile, Alabama, which will build jetliners for U.S. customers.
Airbus delivered the 12,000th commercial aircraft in the company’s 50-year history – an A220-100 assembled in Mirabel, Canada for U.S.-based Delta Air Lines.
After its official launch at the 2019 Paris Air Show, Airbus’ extra-long-range single-aisle A321XLR steadily built up a strong base of orders and commitments from customers around the world.
Dr. Thomas (“Tom”) Enders served as Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Airbus SE, from June 2012 to April 2019, after having been CEO of the Airbus Commercial Aircraft Division since 2007. Before that he served as Co-CEO of EADS between 2005 and 2007. He was Head of the Group’s Defence Division from 2000 to 2005. He has been a member of the Executive Committee of Airbus S.E. since its creation in 2000. Prior to joining the aerospace industry in 1991, Enders worked, inter alia, as a Member of the “Planungsstab” of the German Ministry of Defence and in various foreign policy think tanks. He studied economics, political science and history at the University of Bonn and at the University of California in Los Angeles.