Forty-two years ago, as Airbus was handing over its first A300 to Air France, much of Asia was a mess. War raged in Cambodia and Vietnam and, at the end of Chairman Mao’s calamitous rule, China’s economy lay in tatters. While Japan, Malaysia and South Korea had embarked on industrial revolutions, and countries such as Singapore were exceptions to the rule, living standards throughout the region languished.
Airbus, too, barely posed a threat to US dominance. A necessary union pooling the assets of Europe’s aircraft builders to create some transatlantic competition, it relied on early orders from its “home” customers.
Nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine deliveries on, things have changed for Airbus and the world. Who would have forecast in 1974 that Asia-Pacific would end up as Airbus’s biggest market, with 3,500 of its first 10,000 aircraft heading to the region, and two of its largest three customers being Chinese?
Today, Airbus and Boeing represent a new hegemony. But when the European manufacturer marks its 20,000th delivery, how will things have changed? China has gone from 1970s basket case to 21st century super marketplace. It is not unreasonable to imagine it being a powerhouse in aerospace by the 2040s. And what then? Would anyone bet against another merger, this time of the legacy players – Airbus and Boeing – to take on the new beast from the east?