Photo (c) Alex Rankin
Airbus developed the A300 – the world’s first widebody twin-jet as its first aircraft product when the European consortium was established in 1970. It first flew on 28th October 1972 and entered service with launch customer Air France soon after.
But early sales were fairly slow, and the hope of entering the US market was difficult. That is, until Eastern Air Lines ordered the type, followed soon after by Pan Am. This gave the A300 the boost it needed.
A later variant of the Airbus aircraft was the A300-600 with upgraded engines and cockpit. The A300-600R first flew in 1988, with increased range.
Enter American Airlines
The launch customer for the A300-600 was Saudia, but American Airlines took delivery of the first -600R example in 1988.
In total, American ordered 25 A300s with ten options, which it later exercised, bringing the total fleet to 35 examples.
The aircraft was initially ordered to operate on American’s Caribbean and Latin America routes out of Miami and New York JFK in particular. It had the range, and greater capacity than the Boeing 737 or 757, which was often demanded for these routes.
The A300 did, for a while, transition to the transatlantic market, operating flights out of East Coast airports like JFK to European airports like London Heathrow. It was also used on some trunk domestic links which was a useful way of moving the fleet between bases.
Crash of American Flight 587
On November 12, 2001, an American Airlines A300 crashed shortly after departing New York JFK airport on a flight to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, operating as flight AA587.
This occurred only a month after the devastating September 11 attacks on New York and Washington, and many initially thought there might be a terrorist link.
The aircraft ploughed into the neighbourhood of Belle Harbour in Queens, killing all 260 passengers and crew, plus 5 people on the ground.
Investigations eventually determined that the aircraft crashed as a result of difficulties encountered by the crew while flying through wake turbulence from a Boeing 747 which departed JFK shortly before they took off. The excessive rudder movements by the first officer flying the A300 were extreme enough to cause the entire vertical tail fin to snap off, resulting in the aircraft crashing.
When Did American Retire the A300?
The last Airbus A300 was retired from American Airlines’ fleet in 2009, after 21 years of service with the carrier.
The final flight was a trip from Miami to New York JFK on 24 August that year, with 150 guests on board to celebrate the event.
“For those of us that flew the A300 at American Airlines, it was an aircraft that stole our hearts,” said Delvin Young, American Airlines Chief Pilot – Flight Test. “It was more than an airplane, it was also the character and personality of the people that flew and worked it. We were an airline within the airline. We were, and are still, a family – including our friends at Airbus. We took two great teams and created airline history.”
Where are American Airlines’ A300s Now?
When American retired its Airbus A300 fleet between 2008-09, all of the aircraft were sent to storage.
Surprisingly, there was no uptake for the aircraft among other airlines or for cargo conversions.
Most of the fleet were sent to Roswell, NM, where American traditionally stores its retired types. A few went to Victorville, Tulsa and Greenwood Leflore airports.
Many of the A300s have by now been scrapped, but a few still exist, waiting their turn.
I flew on one American Airlines A300, between Orlando and Miami, in 1993. However, for a while I remember them being common sights at London Heathrow when they were used on transatlantic services between the US East Coast and Europe.
Did you fly an American Airlines A300?