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Sud Aviation continued to expand, merging in 1970 with another rival, Nord Aviation, and with the missile and space group called SEREB [Société pour l'étude et la Realisation d'Engins Balistiques]. Together they formed Societe National. Industrielle Aérospatiale. By then, company officials had learned sharp lessons from the Concorde. They vowed that on their next attempt, they would build something that airlines actually would buy. Aerospatiale manufactured products ranging from light utility and business aircraft to large commercial civil transport aircraft and from light helicopters to heavy-lift, multi-engine helicopters.

The formation of Aerospatiale in 1970 created an entity of 40,000 employees with four divisions: aircraft, helicopters, tactical missiles, plus ballistic missiles and space transport systems. From here, co-operation became the norm, not only on Concorde but through the ATR regional aircraft consortium formed with Italy's Alenia. In 1992 Eurocopter was formed with Germany's Dasa. Euromissile was founded with Dasa forerunner MBB in 1972, and Eurosam was formed in 1989 with Thomson-CSF and Alenia to develop the Aster missile system. This next effort took shape within an international collaboration called Airbus Industrie, which brought in British Aerospace as a partner, along with a subsidiary of Germany's firm of Messerschmitt-Bolkow-Blohm. They proceeded to build the two-engine Airbus A-300 jetliner. It had the wide cabin of Boeing's 747, which was popular for its spaciousness.

At first, the A-300 looked like another flop. Few of them sold, while the French government continued to build these aircraft to provide jobs. Aérospatiale could not simply cut back production and lay off its workers, for French law required that such unemployed people were to receive 90 percent of their pay for a year, while retaining their extensive health benefits. As a result, Airbus Industrie was building planes that no one wanted.

Yet while the high price of fuel helped to kill Concorde, it saved Airbus, because the A-300 burned less fuel. It had rivals in triple-engine wide-body airliners-the Lockheed L-1011 and the McDonnell Douglas DC-10. But the A-300 had one less engine and hence was lighter in weight, which is why it used less fuel.

The A-300 had other advantages. Having only two engines, it was less costly to purchase. The tri-jets had mounted an engine in the tail, but the A-300 avoided this. Hence it could fit more fare-paying passengers into its cabin. The A-300 soon drove the DC-10 and L-1011 from the market. This success opened new doors for Airbus, which launched new projects and went on to challenge Boeing for leadership in aviation.

Aérospatiale also showed leadership in space flight. A European effort of the 1960s sought to build the Europa launch vehicle, a three-stage rocket with separate stages built in Britain, France, and Germany. All flight tests failed, partly because there was no central authority that could tell these sovereign governments what to do. Then in 1973, officials of Aérospatiale stepped in.

They proposed to build a new launch vehicle called the Ariane. Other European nations also were welcome to participate-but officials in France would make the most important decisions, which would be binding on all. This approach worked, with Ariane succeeding brilliantly on its very first flight late in 1979. With this, the French went on to gain a strong advantage over the United States. American space leaders had placed their hopes on the Space Shuttle. But the explosion in flight of the Shuttle Challenger in 1986 showed that this launch vehicle was too complex for routine use and could only fly in limited service. Aérospatiale went on to develop more capable versions of the Ariane, which took much of the business of space launches away from the Americans.

In 1992, Aérospatiale joined with the German helicopter firm MBB to create Eurocopter Holdings. Both companies were already participating in the four-nation NH.90 helicopter project, along with the Italian firm Agusta and the German firm Fokker. The NH.90 was developed as a multi-purpose helicopter capable of serving as a troop transport, and in anti-submarine and anti-shipping roles.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 02:57:23 ZULU