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Airbus began as a consortium of European aviation firms to compete with the might of the American firms such as Boeing. Airbus Industrie was set up in 1970 following an agreement between Aerospatiale (France) and Deutsche Aerospace (Germany) (joined by Casa of Spain in 1971) to develop the A300, which first flew in 1972.

Intially the success of the consortium was fitful but by 1979 there were 81 aircraft in service. BAe (Britain) joined the consortium at the end of 1979, the group being divided with 38% stake each for the Germans and French, 20% for the British, and the Spanish firm with 4%. All in a fairly loose alliance but this changed in 2000 when the consortium decided to recreate as a private commercial company to coincide with the development of the new A3XX.

Various iterations of the A300 were lauched throughout the 1980s, including the A320 with it's innovative fly-by-wire control system.

Currently there are around 1600 Airbus aircraft in service, with Airbus having around 50% of outstanding build orders (1999). Although they are still outnumbered 6-to-1 by in service Boeings.

Airbus employs around 40,000 people. Airbuses have crashed 11 times killing 1400 people.