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Airbus began as a consortium of European aviation firms to compete with the might of the American firms such as Boeing. Airbus Industrie was set up in 1970 following an agreement between Aerospatiale (France) and Deutsche Aerospace[?] (Germany) (joined by CASA of Spain in 1971) to develop the A300, which first flew in 1972. A shorter variant is known as the A310.

As of October 2002, Airbus is jointly owned by European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS) and BAe Systems.

Intially the success of the consortium was fitful but by 1979 there were 81 aircraft in service. British Aerospace joined the consortium at the end of 1979, the group being divided with 38% stake each for the Germans and French, 20% for the British, and the Spanish firm with 4%. All in all it was a fairly loose alliance but that changed in 2000 when the consortium decided to reconfigure as a private commercial company (EADS) to coincide with the development of the new Airbus A380.

The Airbus A320 family from the smallest (A318) to the largest (A321)
Larger version

Various derivatives of the A300 were launched throughout the 1980s, including the A320 with it's innovative fly-by-wire control system. The A318 and A319 are shorter derivatives with some of the latter under construction for the corporate biz-jet market. A stretched version is known as the A321 and is proving competitive with later models of the Boeing 737.

The trans-continental products, the twin-jet A330 and the four-jet A340, have extremely graceful and efficient wings, enhanced by streamlined winglets. These are competing strongly with the larger Boeing products and may partly explain the cessation of airliner production at Lockheed in 1983 and the take-over of McDonnell Douglas by the surviving US builder of long-distance airliners, Boeing, in 1996-1997. The company is particularly proud of its use of fly-by-wire technologies.

Currently there are around 1600 Airbus aircraft in service, with Airbus having around 50% of outstanding build orders (1999), although Airbus products are still outnumbered 6 to 1 by in- service Boeings. A turboprop powered military transport aircraft (the A400) is being developed for several NATO members to the east of the Atlantic Ocean.

Airbus employs around 40,000 people.

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