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Thu, Mar 09, 2006

Airbus To Bid Adieu To The Aircraft That Started It All

A300, A310 Will Go Out Of Production In July 2007

They're the airliners that started it all for Airbus... and soon, they'll be no more.

Airbus announced Tuesday that the end of the line is near for its inaugural A300 and A310 widebodies. That end will come in July 2007, when the last A300-600 freighter on the books is delivered to FedEx.

"It is in Airbus' best business interest to optimize the use of its resources at this time," said Airbus CEO Gustav Humbert. "We are implementing a major production ramp-up across our business as the A300/A310 program nears completion. This is in response to growing demand from our customers for the newer Airbus products like the A321, the A330/A340 family and the new A350 aircraft, that cover or even go beyond the market segment of our original aircraft program." 

During the last two years, around 150 Airbus employees produced about one aircraft a month on the A300/A310 final assembly line. Airbus says no one will lose work because of the shutdown; all employees involved in the A300/A310 production will be offered new positions in other current or future programs.

The A300 (above, and right), launched in May 1969 and entering service with Air France in May 1974, was the very first widebody twin ever brought to the market. The A310, launched in July 1978 and entering service in April 1983 with Lufthansa and Swissair, also set new standards with the first two-man cockpit on a widebody.

"The A300/A310 program launched the Airbus success story and with a total of 821 orders it has surpassed all commercial expectations," said Humbert. "The spirit behind the A300/310 continues into the 21st century, most recently with the A380 and the A350 programs."

The series pioneered several technologies common throughout the business today... most notably the use of digital avionics and CRT displays.

Perhaps a more dubious distinction -- but still a significant achievement -- the A300 and A310 also popularized the use of composite vertical stabilizer assemblies on commercial airliners.

While many suspected that the failure of such an assembly led to the tragic downing of American Airlines Flight 587 -- an A300 -- in 2001, the NTSB later determined that forces placed on the rudder and vertical stabilizer by the desperate pilots exceeded the aircraft's design limitations -- no fault of Airbus's. That decision didn't sit well with many, though -- including New York Senator Charles Schumer, who called for the NTSB to reopen its investigation into Flight 587 last April.

In May 2005, the rudder of an Air Transat A310 separated while en route from Cuba to Canada. Although little of the rudder panel remained (below) crews were able to land the aircraft safely back in Cuba.

The FAA subsequently ordered mandatory inspections on all A300s and A310s in service with American carriers -- most of them with FedEx and American.

FMI: www.airbus.com

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