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The Boeing Advertisement, taken from a 1973 issue of Flight Global. Click to Enlarge.

Two online definitions of an “airbus” are:

  1. AIR-BUS: A short-range or medium-range commercial passenger airplane, especially one that is part of a frequent shuttle like service between two popular destinations. [Dictionary.com]
  2. An aircraft designed to carry a large number of passengers economically, esp. over relatively short routes. [Google]

Boeing 727 in a freighter configuration. Creative Commons.

Interestingly, that name is what we today associate with the European aerospace company. In the pre-Airbus era, “airbus” was a term used to describe airplanes, as above. When the Airbus Industrie was founded in 1970, they adopted the popular description. The Boeing 727 was one such very well known, and immensely successful “airbus” airplane back in its time, when it entered service in 1964.

Here is the more interesting part: American Airlines began flying the Boeing 727 in 1964, making it one of the first operators, and at one point of time, the airline operated as many as 182 Boeing 727s, making it the largest operator of the type.

This same operator, in as early as 1966, laid out the requirements for a Boeing 727 “replacement” on short to medium range routes. The requirements were: a passenger capacity of 250 – 300, twin aisle, twin engine, and good hot and high airfield performance.

The very next year, the British, French and German governments signed an MoU to develop the Airbus A300: a 300 seat, twin aisle, twin engine aircraft. With twice the maximum capacity (375 seats) of a Boeing 727 airliner (189 seats), it almost seemed like the A300 was “tailormade” for American Airlines. Intended for short and medium haul routes, the A300 was another “airbus”.

Airbus A300, flying for American Airlines. Creative Commons

American Airlines was the largest passenger operator of the type, with 35 Airbus A300s. The A300, very obviously, was deployed on routes with sufficient capacity, replacing two 727s with one A300, which in effect, was replacing 6 engines with 2, Two sets of Crew with one, and Two fuel guzzling 727s with an operationally more economical airplane that cost just twice as much as a single Boeing 727.

Possibly sensing trouble, Boeing came out with an advertisement in 1973 (beginning of article), a copy of which was published in one of that year’s print issue of Flightglobal. The advertisement was a direct hit at Airbus, in which it makes a very unfair comparison between the 727 and the alluded-to A300. At the time of the advertisement, Airbus was only 3 years old, and the A300 hadn’t yet entered service. The 727 was, at the time of the advertisement, flying for almost 10 years, and evidently, without a successful competitor, the “best selling” at that time, with orders crossing the 1000th mark in the September of 1972.

The introduction of the A300, amongst other newer airplanes, had its effect on the 727. It took 9 years to sell 1000 Boeing 727s, but 18years thereafter to sell 832 airplanes. The last Boeing 727 was built in 1984, and the 727 was retired from American Airlines’ fleet in 2002. The Airbus A300 was produced for 33 years: 12 years more than the 727, producing 561 airplanes. The A300 fleet was retired from American Airlines in 2009.

In short, the Airbus Industry was effectively formed to cater to an American Airlines requirement, and the American Airlines requirement stemmed from the Boeing 727. Which, if seen in another light, will appear as if the Boeing 727 gave birth to the Airbus Industrie.

The advertisement, very aptly, reads, “Because the Boeing 727 is the original airbus”.