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 March, 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."
While the flight and ground tests of the A300B2 continued, Airbus has been talking to Korean Airlines about producing a longer-range version, the B4. Airbus sees South-East Asia as a vital market ready to be opened up and Korean Airlines to be the key.
French and German type certification for the A300 was obtained in March, 1973. And on 23 of september, the first A300 into service will make 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, are impressive. As Adam Brown, the former Vice President-Customer Affairs Directorate, put it: “An element of Airbus 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 enables the A300, when it enter service, to offer airlines a 20 per cent saving in direct operating costs per trip relative to the competing tri-jets.”
Another factor, beyond the control of Airbus, contributes to the growing recognition among airlines that the A300 offers valuable economic advantages over its rivals. Not only does having one less engine considerably reduce the capital cost involved in buying the aircraft, but the A300’s fuel efficiency becomes increasingly important as the 1973 oil crisis begin to bite and prices of flights soares.
But the big breakthrough is still to come. And here the courage and flair shown by the earlier A300 tour of America may paid off . Lathière persuaded Frank Borman of Eastern Airlines to take four A300s “on lease” for six months and then decide whether to buy. If he decided against buying, Airbus would simply take them back. It was a brave gamble, and one which was to succeed. After trying out the A300s and finding they were even more economical and efficient than he had expected, Borman ordered 23 A300s with nine options in April, 1973. It is the first contract Airbus has signed with a U.S. customer..
Throughout the sales drought of 1973 Béteille had not only been convinced, rightly, that Airbus would pull through – he had also nurtured plans to build the second aircraft in his dreamt-of Airbus family, the A310.