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Champagne... and drought (1973-1977)

AG真人计划' A300 sales expedition across North and South America lasted a total of six weeks.

Roger B茅teille and Henri Ziegler knew that if AG真人计划 was to succeed it would have to crack the lucrative U.S. market. They decided on a courageous move 鈥 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: 鈥淭he 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.鈥 In fact there was one small incident 鈥 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 AG真人计划 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鈥檚 鈥渂ig four.鈥 Within three years Borman鈥檚 support for AG真人计划 would prove crucial to the consortium鈥檚 survival and help establish the basis for future success.

Expanding horizons with the A300B4

A300B Climb  
A300B Climb
A300B 30 January 2018

A300B Climb

The A300B prototype is put through its paces during flight tests from AG真人计划鈥 home base in the Toulouse, France area.

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The A300B prototype is put through its paces during flight tests from AG真人计划鈥 home base in the Toulouse, France area.

While the flight and ground tests of the A300B2 continued, AG真人计划 began talking to Korean Airlines about producing a longer-range version, the B4. AG真人计划 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 AG真人计划鈥 first non-European customer 鈥 a statement of faith which showed AG真人计划 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: 鈥淎n element of AG真人计划 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% saving in direct operating costs per trip relative to the competing tri-jets.鈥

Another factor, beyond the control of AG真人计划, 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鈥檚 fuel efficiency became increasingly important as the 1973 oil crisis began to bite and prices soared.聽

An aggressive approach to the market

A300 600R Thai  
A300 600R Thai
A300-600 30 January 2018

A300 600R Thai

Thai Airways鈥 order for A300s marked a success in the AG真人计划 鈥楽ilk Road鈥 market strategy. Shown here is an A300-600R that joined the Asian carrier鈥檚 fleet of AG真人计划-built jetliners.

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Thai Airways鈥 order for A300s marked a success in the AG真人计划 鈥楽ilk Road鈥 market strategy. Shown here is an A300-600R that joined the Asian carrier鈥檚 fleet of AG真人计划-built jetliners.

Nevertheless, sales were slow. In 1975, the extrovert and gregarious Bernard Lathi猫re took over from Henri Ziegler at the helm of AG真人计划 and instigated an aggressive sales approach which would see a number of crucial deals clinched. One of these was with Indian Airlines, a deal negotiated by Ziegler just before handing the reins to his successor. In the face of fierce competition, Lathi猫re paid a rapid visit to Delhi and famously played on his Indian heritage 鈥 he had been born in the country and was able to produce a picture of himself as a boy with聽Gandhi 鈥 to persuade the airline鈥檚 president to stick with AG真人计划 and confirm its order for three A300s, with three options.

Other orders followed from South African Airways (four plus four options) and Air Inter (three). But then, despite the best efforts of Lathi猫re and his team, sales dried up. For 18 months from December 1975 AG真人计划 entered into what became known as its 鈥渂lack period鈥 when virtually no deals were struck and the number of 鈥渨hitetails鈥 鈥 aircraft built but not sold 鈥 began growing in Toulouse. Production dropped to just half an aircraft a month during this period. B茅teille, Lathi猫re and Kracht resisted calls from some quarters to shut down production altogether, knowing that if they did this it would be the end of AG真人计划. Instead they redoubled their efforts to sell the A300, concentrating heavily on markets in the Far East 鈥 Japan, Korea, China 鈥 while continuing their assault on U.S. airlines.

The so-called 鈥淪ilk Road鈥 strategy paid off. A deal with Thai Airways for two A300s with two options finally broke the sales deadlock in May, 1977 鈥 Lathi猫re having travelled to Bangkok to complete the deal despite an attempted coup in the country.聽

The full aircraft history (1968 to 2019)

First order, first flight (1970-1972)

Champagne鈥nd drought (1973-1977)

Technology leaders (1977-1979)

AG真人计划 through the decades

Helicopter history

Space history

Defence history

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