Au Revoir, Roger Béteille: Airbus' Founding Father and Visionary Dies

He was one of the leaders behind the original Airbus A300 program.
Wednesday 26 June 2019
He nurtured a dream and took it to the skies. Photo: Airbus

Roger Béteille has passed away at the age of 97. “Airbus is saddened that one of its founding fathers, Roger Béteille, who not only shaped Airbus’ first commercial aircraft – the A300B – but also Airbus Industrie, passed away on 14 June at the age of 97,” Airbus wrote in a statement.

Born in Aveyron, France, in 1921, Roger Béteille studied at Supaéro in Toulouse before joining France’s SNCASE, which later became Sud Aviation, in 1943. He received his pilot’s licence in 1945, becoming thereafter flight test engineer in 1952 and part of the flight test team on the Caravelle’s first flight.

In July 1967, the idea to develop a 300-seater all-new wide-body twinjet was progressing and Béteille was appointed chief engineer for the A300 programme at Sud Aviation. However, Air France and Lufthansa wanted a smaller plane (around 250 seats) so in early 1968, Béteille started work in secret on what would become the A300B, a 250-seater with a hold large enough to accommodate two standard containers side by side. The innovative fuselage cross-section he designed is still in use today on the A330.

Béteille Airbus Founder (1) - airbus
Photo: Airbus

Known as “the man with the white tie”, it was Béteille, along with Airbus’ first production director Felix Kracht, who drew up the workshare which forms the basis of Airbus’ European production system that still defines the company today.

“I wanted to use all the available talents and capacities to their utmost without worrying about the colour of the flag or what language was spoken,” he said at the time. He extended this approach to creating a multinational flight test team. The A300B was formally launched in 1969.

From the very start, Béteille nurtured a dream: to found an aircraft family. “I was convinced that Airbus would never take off with a single aircraft. Potential customers would wonder if we’d still be around in ten or 20 years’ time,” Airbus quoted him as saying. His dream truly came to fruition towards the end of his career, when in March 1984 he managed the formal launch of the A320.

Béteille Airbus Founder (3) - airbus
Photo: Airbus

A quick look at Béteille’s legacy:

1969: Formal go-ahead for the Airbus A300B programme.

1970: After the creation of Airbus Industrie, he becomes senior vice president, Engineering

1972: First flight of A300B.

1975: Appointed General Manager of Airbus Industrie.

1977: Breakthrough in the US with the first A300 commitment to buy from Eastern Airlines.

1978: Launch of A310: the first step in realising Roger Béteille’s vision of an Airbus family.

1984: Achieves launch of A320, a totally new single-aisle aircraft with wider fuselage and fly-by-wire flight controls.

1985: Retires from Airbus Industrie as company President.

2012: The A350 XWB final assembly line in Toulouse is named in his honour.

Related: Airbus Bids Adieu to the A380