Airbus Has Made The Boeing 797 Before: The A300

As the world holds their collective breath for the latest technological aerospace creation from Boeing, the 797, few remember that Airbus actually built it back in the 1960s.

It was called the Airbus A300.

A300
An A300 sits on the tarmac at a museum. Source: Wikimedia.

What was the A300?

The Airbus A300 was a lot of firsts. It was the first jet aircraft designed and built by Airbus. It was also the world’s first twin-jet twin-aisle airliner. Built from 1972 all the way up to 2007, the A300 was a marvelous aircraft that filled a role in the skies that has yet to be replaced.

It could carry 266 passengers and fly a long way for its time; 4,000 nautical miles.

The story of why the A300 exists is the same as why we have Airbus today. Back in the 1960s, there were many aircraft companies operating in Europe, from the British Overseas Aircraft Corporation (BOAC) to Sud Aviation of France. They recognized that they would not be able to achieve the order numbers to take on Boeing (the market leader of the time) and thus should join forces.

And join forces they did, with the likes of Nord Aviation and German aerospace companies coming together “for the joint development and production of an airbus”. An ‘airbus’, of course, was the generally accepted term for commercial aircraft at the time, and easily translated between all the member nations.

To build this ‘airbus’, these companies turned to their supporting nations. British, German and French governments came together to finance the project, fearing that American aviation companies would otherwise dominate the continent.

Airbus would be building and designing the Concorde at the same time.

And why this design? During the consultation period, both American Airlines and Air France noted the desire for a twin-aisle high capacity aircraft.

With a mission statement in hand and financing in place, the A300 was born.

Wikimedia
An Egypt Air A300. Source: Wikimedia

It immediately won success with an order for six aircraft from Air France and would go on a six week tour to win American business (such as Eastern Airlines). To help attract the American market, Airbus designed the aircraft in English and using imperial units of measurement.

How does it compare to the upcoming Boeing 797?

Naturally, it would be foolish to compare the Airbus A300, an almost 50-year-old aircraft, to a concept machine that has yet to be announced.

But if we were to stack them back to back:

The Boeing 797 will seat around 225-275 passengers and fly around 5,000 nautical miles.

The A300 seats 266 passengers and flies around 4,000 nautical miles. With a bit of suspension of disbelief and modern technology, an updated A300neo could easily match the Boeing aircraft.

So, if Airbus already has the aircraft that airlines are calling out for… why is Boeing building it?

Wikimedia Airbus
The original A300 with Airbus ‘fly by wire’ advertising livery. Source: Wikimedia

Why airlines don’t use the A300 anymore

The last A300 was built in 2007. Specifically, the last freight A300 was built in 2007.

Airbus would use the design of the A300 to develop improved versions for better range and more capacity, such as the A330 and A340. With airlines seeking more passengers and range, many chose other bigger aircraft, or if they needed smaller/similar capacity, they would pick the more fuel efficient single-aisle twin-jet aircraft such as the A320 and Boeing 737. The remaining A300s still flying were converted into freight transports.

A300
Most A300s are used for air freight today. Source: Wikimedia

It does raise an interesting question of why now airlines are now looking for something like the A300, and if there is a market for Airbus to bring it back. Airbus has said they will keep the A300 flying until at least 2025.

What do you think? Should Airbus bring back the A300?

18 comments
  1. Absolutely yes – but not just as a NEO. It would have to be rebuilt from scratch with the latest composite structure, but a dimensionally similar aircraft would show the NMA the way home!

    1. Andy you are absolutely correct. A New A300 with composite structure, 2020 electronics and avionics, making it a 2 pilot operational aircraft, and also a new interior, would put the NMA back on the drawing board. With GE/CFM Engines, the A300 (Neo) would be a winner. The twin engine, twin aisle A300 was a super hit with airlines and passengers in 1972.

  2. Neither of A300 or B767-200 are anything like what airlines are “calling for.” That they are low-capacity, twin-aisle WIDE-bodies does not make the grade. Both are more far more fuel thirsty than the market has any taste for. A run of 500 some odd airplanes that nobody wants back does not make it attractive in the least. Interest lies in a model smaller than the B767-200, 6 or 7 across only, not 8, far more fuel efficient and in probably half the cases with longer range. The major kink in this thinking is that the B757 is the airplane that killed the market for the A300 and what is being asked for is something to beat the B757, which neither of the A300 or A321 can do fully or impressively.

    1. Until a few years ago, Thai Airways were flying an A300 from BKK on inter Asia routes and to Chiang Mai.

      Depreciation aircraft. Lumpy seats. Neglected.

  3. Yes ,modernize the A 300 with la creme de la creme of European Engineering and that’s it but not the way Boeing modernized its great 737 with the Maxes complixities,software ,sensors,intensive and thorough pilots training etc
    Airbus must make it safe ,simple and the same price as their competitor’s aircraft.

  4. No, Airbus didn’t build the Concorde.

    On November 29, 1962, an agreement was signed in London by which the British and French governments undertook to finance the development and building of a supersonic airliner. Everything would be shared – costs, work, and proceeds of sales. Before the signing of the treaty, the British Aircraft Corporation (BAC) and Sud-Aviation of France had agreed in principle on how the work of developing and producing the airframe of the supersonic airliner should be shared between them.

    Airbus Industrie was formally established as a Groupement d’Intérêt Économique (Economic Interest Group or GIE) on 18 December 1970. By the end of 1968 the industrial teams had announced that they had downsized the new airplane i.e. (from 9 abreast to 8 abreast in economy class) and eliminated the Rolls Royce RB207 engine. As a result, the British government walked out on the 10th of April, 1969, but the British firm Hawker Siddeley remained as a subcontractor for the wing, and the German and French governments agreed to split the costs. In October 1971 the Spanish company CASA acquired a 4.2% share of Airbus Industrie, with Aérospatiale ( i.e. merger of Sud Aviation, Nord Aviation and Société d’études et de réalisation d’engins balistiques (SEREB)) and Deutsche Airbus reducing their stakes to 47.9%. British Aerospace (the former Hawker Siddeley part) joined Airbus Industrie as a full government-backed partner in 1979 as a full partner on the A310 and acquirrd a 20% share of Airbus Industrie, with the French and German governments reducing their shares to 37.9%.

    Of course, since the British Aircraft Corporation (BAC) and Sud-Aviation later became a part of Airbus, support of spare parts and maintenance for the Concorde was the responsibility of Airbus — until all of the aircraft were decommissioned in 2003.

  5. I have always thought that the 797 brief was similar to the original A300 design. I’m sure Airbus could dust off the old drawings and update the whole design on CAD and probably already have but now is probably not the best time for either Boeing or Airbus to be looking at all-new aircraft types given the cost and the difficulties both have had doing this (e.g. 787 delays due to problems like outsourcing) and revamped old models just coming online (A330NE & 777X) with longterm supplier contracts and both having difficulty securing orders for these aircraft. Maybe a good idea for a future article could be whether modern CAD has been a clear winner for aircraft designers because from where I’m sitting it doesn’t appear to have been the success people thought it would be.

  6. The A300 died because it was not economical any longer. Let’s see what we would have to do to make it into a competitive airplane. First upgrade every system in the airplane and engineer it into a two pilot aircraft. New fuel efficient wing and new engines. In other words, tear everything out and start over.

    1. The later A300’s have 2 pilot cockpits. Airlines still operating the relatively new A300’s are now updating the flight decks with modern panels and flight management computers, along with updates to the weather radar and GPWS systems. These updates will keep them flying beyond 2030.

  7. Odd to have a whole article on the A300 and not mention the 747. Perhaps people forget, but the 747 was a giant step up in capacity from the dominant large aircraft of the time (mostly 707 and DC-8). That left demand for an in-between sized aircraft. Airlines lose big money if they fly a route with either too big or too small an aircraft. So capacity gaps get filled.

    In short order, this particular capacity gap got three credible entrants: L-1011, DC-10, and the A300. The first two first flew in 1970. By first flight of the A300 in 1972, they were not well established, and A300 was just enough smaller to play a capacity gap filler role under them.

    None of the three is remotely viable in the current climate for the same single reason–their engines are several generations out-of-date in fuel economy. That is not a close call.

  8. Wouldn’t it simply be easier to slightly shrink the A330 and add the neo engines? Common maintenance and parts inventories, and a common type-rating would serve current Airbus customers well.

  9. By the way, BOAC or British Overseas Airways Corporation is the airline, the precursor of British Airways. It must be British Aircraft Corporation (BAC) you are thinking about that partnered with other European manufacturers to form Airbus.

  10. I think Boeing have boxed themselves into a corner, here.
    The 797 is going to turn out like a shrink of the 787. Sure, the twin aisles make for quicker loading/unloading, but what aircraft is this really supposed to replace? The 1000 or so 757’s.

    The 757 is a great aircraft – able to go across the Atlantic as easily as going to NY to Atlanta, and still turn a profit. However, as the 737 has grown and grown, it has squeezed out the market of what the 757 is: 200-260 seats, flying some 4-5000 miles (ok, 737’s top out around 3500), single aisle 3×3 seating and big, efficient engines with a lot of ground clearance. The change in ETOPS allowing twins to go overseas really made this a versatile aircraft.

    In hindsight – with the whole Max mess and the success of the 757, I’m sure Boeing is looking back thinking “Why the hell didn’t we save billions on a new 797 design by just making a 757 Max; new composite wings, better engines, winglets…?”

    The 737 could have stayed in it’s own lane and wouldn’t have to be pushed to design limits, airlines flying the 757 could have been grandfathered in to the same type rating and we’d still have a great sexy design to look at.

    I know, hindsight is 20/20, but I think that is the way to go. Let the twin aisles do their job, let the singles aisles do theirs…

    1. Agree with your comments Frank. But the shorter 787-3 was dropped due to lack of interest as Airbus has found with the A330-800 though both appear to meet the suggested market need. Also, the way I understand the brief for the 797 is 2-2-2 seating so it’s not going to hold any more passengers than a A321 but sure as hell will cost more.

      So come on Airbus and Boeing, if there is a real need dust off the A300 and 757 drawings, update everything with modern technology and engines like both have done with the A330NEO and 777-X and start knocking on doors!

  11. I actually loved the Comet. Can they please throw on new engines…
    but seriously, suggestions like the one I read her are just crazy. How about we finally get some NEW planes into the sky and stop pimping up decade old designs. Doesn’t the 737 Max disaster tell us something? I want to fly in planes that offer the comfort of 350s or Dreamliners – or ideally the A380. A pimped up Airbus A300 will never be able to achieve that. Nor does a 737, for that matter. In any other engineering discipline the age of these products would be called vintage. The calls should simply be for Boeing to sit down and design a new 737 including variants that cater to the MMA requirements! Airbus have made their call with the A321. Boeing could outperform it easily with a new from-scratch plane that replaces both the 737 and 757.

    I still wonder what the author of this shockingly poor article strewn with errors was referring to with “another engineering marvel” from Boeing. In the light of over 300 casualties due to blatant design and software flaws, such a statement is nothing but distasteful. Are you guys working for Boeing by any chance???

    1. Hi Joe, I understand your concern regarding the 737 MAX 8.
      If you have read my other thoughts on the matter you will see that I have slammed Boeing for being profit driven and personally believe that they should be held in court for crimes.
      However, that is outside the scope of this article, and we can’t deny that until now the 737 design has been very good. Boeing does build excellent planes when compared to other countries like China/Russia/India etc, and I feel comfortable flying on their 797 and 777X planes when they arrive.
      If you find that comment distasteful, I’ll edit it out for you.

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