BOOKS: A Turbulent Half-Century - Britain Dithered as Europe Made Its Successful Challenge on America's Post-War Domination of the Aerospace Industry. Bob Ayling Tightens His Seat-Belt

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Close to the Sun; By Stephen Aris; Aurum pounds 20.00.

I read Stephen Aris's Close to the Sun over the jubilee weekend, sitting in the sunshine in my house in the Brecon Beacons. I had escaped for some private celebration and reflection of the 50 years. Nostalgia and retrospection were in the air. I had not expected a semi-authorised history of the European aerospace industry to fit my mood so well or to be so good to read.

The Airbus story can be seen, Aris says, 'as a metaphor for Britain's entire relationship with Europe since World War II', one that, argues a British official, embodies 'Britain's love/hate relationship with the French, her ambiguous feelings about the Germans and the schizophrenic split in the British mind as to whether Britain is a European country or an American one.'

How much more comfortable, then, for us to look back over the 50 years since the Queen's accession, rather than the 50 years living alongside the European project since the signing of the Treaty of Rome in 1952.

Or our 50 years as manufacturers of aircraft since the visionary and beautiful De Havilland Comet 4.

My introduction to Airbus was in 1974, when as a young lawyer I travelled to Paris with Arnold Kean, global doyen of aviation lawyers He had been involved with the certification of the new Airbus A300. 'Do you notice anything unusual about that aircraft?' Kean asked me, as we disembarked at Orly. 'No,' I replied. 'It only has two engines,' he pointed out, 'and they say it can fly with one.'

Kean described the problems of certifying such an innovative aircraft, but was looking forward to his first flight, because 'this is the future'.

He had been at Harvard and couldn't have been friendlier to America, but he sensed change was in the air.

Fifty years ago the US had more than 80% of the world's production of civil aircraft, Britain had 8% and France 5%. Here was a chance for the British to be a very senior partner in a European collaboration. In fact, the Projet was led from the start by a Frenchman, Roger Beteille, and a French company, Sud Aviation. …