The idea of a family of Airbus aircraft to cover all sectors had been embedded in the minds of Roger Béteille and Felix Kracht from the earliest days. It seems logical now that after the A300 and the A310, the next aircraft in line should be the A320. But in fact, for a while there was pressure from some sections of Airbus to go first for the longer-range A330/A340. Projects in development in the late 1970s were wide-bodies: a high-capacity twin and a smaller, ultra long-range four-engine aircraft. But now Airbus could see demand building for a medium-range single-aisle aircraft in the 130-170 seat market.
One of the A300-600 and A310’s notable innovations had been the introduction of electrical signalling on secondary flight controls, replacing the web of cables and pulleys tradionally used. Béteille wanted to take this evolution further with the next Airbus aircraft – to computer-driven digital “fly-by-wire”, in which the deflections of the flying control surfaces on the wing and tail are no longer driven directly by the pilots’ controls, but by a computer which calculates exactly which control surface deflections are needed to make the aircraft respond as the pilot wishes. In place of the pilots’ control column would be a simple sidestick control. Airbus also planned to increase the proportion of components built with composites on the A320 to include the horizontal tailplane and flaps.
Groundbreaking fly-by-wire technology
A royal entrance
A hard-won order from one of America’s leading airlines, Pan Am, crowned the A320 programme’s successful beginnings. It was achieved in the face of stiff competition from rivals and was only the second order won by Airbus in the U.S.
In February, 1987, the A320 was rolled out in a glittering ceremony in Toulouse featuring lasers, dry ice, champagne and royalty – the Prince and Princess of Wales joined French Prime Minister Jacques Chirac as special guests, and 1,400 people attended. Worldwide publicity ensued and optimism was running high. But even the likes of Béteille, Kracht and Jean Pierson (who had replaced Bernard Lathière as President and Chief Executive Officer in 1985) might have hesitated to predict the kind of success the A320 would actually go on to achieve. The A320 Family has recorded spectacular sales success, becoming the best-selling jetliner aircraft family ever.