The UK’s complicated history with Airbus

In Amélie de Montchalin’s article (Britain has the EU’s respect. It must now respect us too, Journal, 29 February) she refers glowingly to French and British stewardship of Airbus. It is undoubtedly true that the UK is at the heart of the success of this European project, but she overlooks the time from 1967-78, when the UK government nearly killed it at birth. We were in it from the beginning with a world-class wing design, but bailed out in 1969, preparing to support a domestic competitor, which would have fatally divided the market. A Franco-German alliance then took a leap of faith and funded the first member of the family despite few sales.

Sir Arnold Hall negotiated a private deal with the two European governments to provide the wings. But Ted Heath’s government blocked the UK alternative and any official return to Airbus. In the late 1970s, the Labour government was considering a Boeing project, but in the face of resistance from the newly nationalised British Aerospace accepted that we should rejoin Airbus as a full partner.

As a coda to this early history, in the 1980s Margaret Thatcher had to be persuaded to support the innovative fly-by-wire Airbus A320, now one of the most profitable airliners and the heart of Airbus’s subsequent challenge to American dominance. One can only hope that our future relationship with Airbus remains as close as it eventually became.
Prof Keith Hayward
Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society, London

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