Airbus is the European aerospace success story. Quietly, the company met a requirement for a medium range twin when Boeing and Douglas were uninterested. There is a story that American’s CEO CR Smith had asked Douglas for a twin DC-10, but the team at Long Beach demurred – they knew better. Airbus came up with the A300 and selected the GE CF6 as the power plant. The combination was to enable early success. American ended up a buying a number. As did other DC-10 users like FedEx. Listening to customer has always been a good idea.
But Airbus’ program development seems to have followed a process that looks decidedly messy as the chart illustrates.
Up to 1983 the company was a two horse act. Its decision to develop the A320 was right on. Following with the A321 was also a good move. The A300 and A310 were aging fast as they were eclipsed by the ever improving 767. Following up with the A340 and A330 were logical at the time but proved to be, perhaps, less than effective in terms of the A340 (200 & 300). Airbus seems to have struggled with widebodies after the early success with the A300. But they kept at it.
In 1993 the addition of the A319 seems to have been a boon and built on the A320/321 success. Building out a family offering appears to have offered airlines what they wanted. Airbus had found a combination that worked well. The A318 turned out to be a shrink too far though. Its early success quickly tailed off.
Between 200 and 2005 Airbus had a lot of models for sale. The chart illustrates this as the A380 was added with its by now well understood complexity. Airbus appears to have been desperate to offer any type of aircraft for any market segment. The second chart shows how this offering evolved from 2005 through 2013.
We have highlighted certain key models in each year to demonstrate how, despite offering so many models, the market focused on a few. In 2005 81% of orders were for four types; A320, A319, A321 and A350-900 respectively. Fully 79% of orders were for single aisle aircraft. Five years later in 2010 these models accounted for 84% of orders with single aisle accounting for 73%. The A330 was now at 11% of orders, the A350 for 11% and the A380 accounted for 6%.
By the end of 2013, the numbers had changed again – the A319 seems to have faded (as did the 737-700) but the A320 and A321 accounted for 77% of orders. Of the twin aisle, the A350 had come on strong with 12% of orders. At last it seems Airbus has a simpler twin aisle offering. The A330 at 5% of orders family acts as a useful 787 foil. Meanwhile the A380 has outsold the 747 for some years and has acquired its rhythm, albeit small. The VLA market appears moribund for both Airbus and Boeing.