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Sud Aviation

Sud Aviation was a French state-owned aircraft manufacturer, originating from the merger of Sud-Est SNCASE, or Societe nationale des constructions Aeronautiques du sud-est and Sud-Ouest SNCASO or Societe nationale des constructions aeronautiques du sud-ouest on March 1, 1957. Both companies had themselves been formed from smaller privately owned corporations that had been nationalized into six regional design and manufacturing pools just prior to World War II.

The first aircraft factory in France was founded by Louis Blériot and Gabriel Voison in 1905 and was followed by around 30 more in the years leading up to and following the First World War. Blériot's crossing of the English channel in a Blériot XI in 1909 not only broke a major physical barrier, but also led to the world's first series production of aircraft in large numbers.

In 1936 the French armament industry was nationalised and five [some say six] state-owned aviation companies were formed out of the original 30, uniting many of the great names including Blériot, Bloch, Dyle et Bacalan and Nieuport Delage, the latter having produced thousands of the much valued Nieuport XI Bébé fighters.

After the Second World War, one of the companies, SNCASE, took over Bloch's pre-war designs and later produced a family of turbine helicopters. They included the Alouette, Gazelle and Puma, built at its factory at Marignane in the south of France where today Eurocopter, an EADS company, has its headquarters.

Sud-Ouest and Sud-Est were merged into Sud-Aviation, formed 1 March 1957 by amalgamation of Ouest-Aviation and Sud-Est Aviation, known until 1 September 1956 respectively as SNCASO and SNCASE. The new firm then started on the design of a supersonic transport version of the Caravelle, known as the Super-Caravelle. However, the projected cost of the project was so high that Sud Aviation, at the direction of the French and British governments, formed a consortium with BAC in November 1962 to merge their design and production efforts to create the Concorde.

Main responsibility was further development and marketing of highly successful S.E.210 Caravelle twin-jet airliner, first flown in 1955, and Alouette series of helicopters. Continued also development of S.E.5000 Baroudeur, S.O.9050 mixed-power interceptor and widely used S.O.4050 Vautour twin-jet multipurpose aircraft. Frelon series of large turbine-powered helicopters developed after first flight in February 1959, Sud-Est SE.313 / SA.318 "Alouette II" and Super Frelon flew December 1962, setting new world records. Design leadership in A300 European Airbus assumed and diversification into nonaeronautical fields undertaken. Jointly with Nord-Aviation made Corvette light rear-engined jet transport. In 1970 became major component of Aerospatiale.

Sud-Aviation had a significant involvement in May 1968, as it was one of the first major factories to be occupied. Sud Aviation, created from four of the original six nationalised companies, became one of the three state-owned companies which were to form Aerospatiale in 1970. The other two were Nord Aviation and nuclear missiles specialist SEREB. Sud Aviation later came into the international limelight as industrial leader for France's stake in the Concorde supersonic airliner.

One of the most significant enterprises to be absorbed into Sud Aviation, in 1965, was Morane-Saulnier, which flew into the history books in 1913 when Roland Garros piloted a Morane-Saulnier H across the Mediterranean - from Fréjus in France to Bizerte, Tunisia - in less than 8h. The company built thousands of aircraft in the First World War, many of which remained in service with the French air force in 1939.

In France, the relationship between the government and the aerospace industry is very different from that in the United States. American firms compete to win contracts from the Department of Defense in Washington, relying on income from those contracts to stay in business. Yet even the largest such corporations remain in the hands of private individuals, including their stockholders.

By contrast, in France, the government owns the industry outright. In particular, the government owns 97 percent of that country's largest aerospace company, the firm of Aérospatiale. Officials in Paris thus have been free to use this industry as an arm of the state, to advance French interests. Yet experience has shown that, despite having the power of the state on their side, aerospace leaders have found that there is no substitute for responding to the demands of the market.

The story of Aérospatiale begins around 1950 with its corporate predecessor, SNCASE. The company was building a line of aircraft that were rather unexciting but brought steady business. These included the Languedoc airliner and two fighters, the Vampire and Mistral. The Vampire was British, being built under license; the Mistral used a jet engine, the Nene, from Britain's firm of Rolls-Royce. In sum, there was not an enormous amount of original thinking at SNCASE.

This changed in 1951 though, as the company began to build the Caravelle jetliner. The Caravelle was not the world's first jetliner, but it was the first to fly successfully. It had two engines and was built to serve short routes, which were quite numerous in Europe. Significantly, its design placed those engines at the rear of the airplane, behind the passenger cabin, rather than under the wings, which led to a noisier ride. Passengers could barely hear the engines, and the Caravelle became very attractive because it was very quiet. Its jet engines also gave a smooth and comfortable ride that was free of harsh vibrations.

Air France, the national airline, placed the first orders. That was to be expected; it too was an arm of the state. However, nearly every other major European airline also bought them. In a major breakthrough for France, America's United Airlines purchased 20 Caravelles. This broke with the practice of America's carriers, which together formed the largest market for airliners in the world, buying only American-built aircraft.

The first Caravelles entered service in May 1959. Two years later, they flew an array of European routes running from London to Casablanca in North Africa, while extending eastward to Moscow and to Tel Aviv and Damascus in the Middle East. In the United States, Caravelles were serving the important route from New York to Chicago. By then SNCASE had merged with another French planebuilder, Ouest Aviation, and had formed the powerful new firm of Sud Aviation. Having achieved great success with Caravelle, Sud now was ready for something new.

This took shape as the Concorde, a joint French-British attempt to build a supersonic commercial airliner. However, it ran into cost overruns and delays, largely because it was a political project. Four companies built it: British Aircraft and Sud, along with Bristol Siddeley and the French engine-building firm of SNECMA. However, all four were working as subcontractors to their governments, which meant that political leaders made the most important decisions. In particular, those leaders wanted the Concorde program to provide jobs for workers, so they set up two separate assembly lines, one in Britain and the other in France. Production facilities are among the most costly parts of a major aircraft program, and this decision brought a great deal of wasteful duplication.

In addition, the delays that ensued provided time for the Boeing 747 to emerge as a rival. This enormous jetliner was far slower than the Concorde but was very comfortable, and travelers liked its low fares. By contrast, the Concorde came along just in time for the oil crises of the 1970s, which sent the cost of jet fuel sky-high. The high-speed flight of Concorde was achieved by burning as much fuel as the vastly larger 747 used, yet Concorde carried only one-fourth as many passengers. Each of them then had to pay four times as much as a 747 passenger did.

Only two airlines ever purchased Concorde, and only in very small numbers. These were the national carriers Air France and British Airways. The Concorde, born in state decisions, ended the same way, as only the airlines of those governments cared to buy them.

Sud Aviation continued to expand, merging in 1970 with another rival, Nord Aviation, and with the missile and space group called SEREB. Together they formed 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.

Sud Aviation merged with Nord Aviation in 1970 to form the A rospatiale company. A rospatiale formed several large-scale international consortia, for example with British Aerospace and Messerschmitt-B lkow-Blohm to form Airbus, and ultimately merged into European aerospace company EADS in 2000.

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