EADS SOCATA - Company Profile, Information, Business Description, History, Background Information on EADS SOCATA

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Socata is one of the world's leading light aircraft manufacturers. From design to customer support, Socata participates in every project of major aeronautical companies.

History of EADS SOCATA

EADS SOCATA is the light plane division of European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company EADS N.V. Subcontracting work for its EADS sister companies and other manufacturers of larger aircraft accounts for about half of its business. An aviation pioneer, Socata and its predecessors produced 17,000 planes of 94 different models in the 20th century. About 5,700 of them were still in service in 2002.

Pioneering Origins

Socata's history can be traced to the Société Anonyme des Aéroplanes Morane-Saulnier, founded in October 1911 by Léon Morane and Raymond Saulnier. While aircraft design was dominated by biplanes until after World War I, Morane-Saulnier, like Blériot, was committed to the monoplane from the start. The firm's Type G was produced under license by Grahame-White of Herndon, England.

In August 1913, one of these planes was converted into a Type L "Parasol" monoplane, in which a single wing structure was elevated above the fuselage by wires and braces, much like the upper wing of most biplanes. The firm's Morane H aircraft made a couple of historic flights in 1913: the tour of Europe by Marcel Brindejonc des Moulinais and the nonstop crossing of the Mediterranean by Roland Garros.

Already, the governments of Europe were bolstering their militaries for war. One of the firm's innovations solved a basic problem of aerial warfare. Three months before war broke out, Raymond Saulnier patented a timing mechanism to allow machine guns to fire between the blades of a moving propeller. This allowed for the placement of guns in front of the cockpit, closer to the pilot's line of sight and closer to the flight path of the airplane. When fitted to the Type L, this created the world's first true fighter aircraft, according to official EADS history. Morane-Saulnier soon devoted its output to fighter aircraft. Legendary French ace Charles Guynemer recorded his first aerial victory in a Morane-Saulnier Type L aircraft in July 1915.

Between the wars, the firm championed the need for modern trainer aircraft. Its MS 230 trainer was delivered to the Armée de l'Air in 1930. Raymond Saulnier developed another huge innovation: a sliding canopy to enclose the cockpit, which first appeared in the MS 405 model that took flight on August 8, 1935. This canopy appeared on numerous airplane types around the world, and generated substantial royalties.

The MS 405/406 series was one of the few low-wing monoplanes to equip French fighter squadrons in quantity at the beginning of World War II; however, with an 860 horsepower V-12 engine, two wing-mounted 7.5mm machine guns, and a 20mm cannon firing through the propeller hub, it was underpowered and underarmed in comparison with German planes. By the fall of France in June 1940, Morane-Saulnier completed 1,081 MS 405s and 406s. Interestingly, Plymax, a light alloy bonded to plywood, made up much of the surface of the aircraft.

Morane-Saulnier's design bureau relocated in an abandoned Dewoitine factory in Tarbes, in southwestern France, which had originally been built to produce Dewoitine's D520 fighter. During the occupation, the plant worked on the Focke-Wulf 190, one of the best German fighters of the war. Production stopped after the Allies bombed the plant in March 1944. After years of secret research, Morane-Saulnier unveiled its own MS 470 two-seat trainer in February 1945, the first plane produced by France's recovering aircraft industry.

Flying Jets After World War II

Morane-Saulnier focused on light jets in the 1950s, introducing the twin engine MS 755 Fleuret ("fencing foil") in January 1953. A derivative, the MS 760 Paris, debuted the next year as the world's first four-seat executive jet. It saw service as a military transport/liaison aircraft, one of the first jets to fill this role. (The last one of 119 Paris jets made was built in 1962.) Other research efforts in the early 1950s proposed a supersonic fighter (MS 1000) and a vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft (MS 1001).

In the late 1950s, the French government explored the feasibility of producing general aviation aircraft for the world market. Morane-Saulnier's answer was the 90-horsepower MS 880 Rallye, which first flew in June 1959. The two-to-three-place model proved very successful, with 3,600 built in the next three years (a military variant was called the Guerrier).

Creation of Socata: 1966

The success of the Rallye was not enough to stave off bankruptcy in late 1962. After Morane-Saulnier was placed in receivership with two other French aerospace manufacturers, Potez and Groupe Sud-Aviation, a new company, Socata, Société de Construction d'Avions de Tourisme et d'Affaires, was created on July 25, 1966.

Socata was a subsidiary of the Groupe Sud-Aviation, maker of the famous Caravelle jet airliner. When Sud-Aviation, Nord-Aviation, and SEREB merged to form Groupe Aérospatiale in 1970, Socata became its light plane division. Socata began subcontracting for Aérospatiale's Helicopter Division in 1975. It also hired the Helicopter Division to work on its own projects.

The restructured company began designing a series of advanced single engine planes to replace the Rallye, each prefixed with the letters "TB" series after the factory Tarbes, where they were built. The TB-9 Tampico and TB-10 Tobago were introduced in 1979. The Trinidad TB-20 and TB-21 and the TB-30 Epsilon military trainer were rolled out between 1981 and 1984. A number of airlines used TB-series planes to train pilots. Like the Rallye, the "Caribbean" line of planes was also widely exported. Socata also built subassemblies for Aérospatiale's other divisions and other manufacturers.

According to Interavia, in the early 1980s light aircraft only represented 16 percent of Socata's workload, equivalent to that for Aérospatiale's Aircraft Division. The Helicopter Division accounted for the largest share of output, 38 percent, with outside client Dassault-Breguet accounting for 30 percent.

Early 1980s Recession

Dassault's share of Socata's business would drop to just 5 percent within four years due to a recession-related drop in Falcon jet sales in the early 1980s. The recession helped lead Socata to an "assembly on demand" policy; the company would stockpile parts, but not planes.

Socata was testing a Tobago equipped with a Lycoming 180-horsepower engine that was fueled by liquefied petroleum gas instead of regular aviation fuel. The general aviation market was weak around the world in the 1980s, and factors such as airspace congestion and higher operating costs made the business aircraft market smaller in Europe. Socata took over marketing of the R-3000 series of aircraft for one ailing manufacturer, Avions Pierre Robin, in the early 1980s, while it gave Robin a substantial amount of subcontracting work.

The company delivered 88 TB planes in 1984. French customers took 18 of them, with the remaining 70 split between other European countries and the rest of the world. Expansion of Socata's U.S. distribution network was a priority in the mid-1980s. The company signed up its first Trinidad dealer in the United States, Sky West of Livermore, California. Deliveries of the plane began in the spring of 1984; about 40 were being shipped to the United States during the year, with half going to dealers for use as demonstrators. Trinidads were priced at $76,000 in France and $105,000 in the United States, including delivery and dealer preparation. By this time, the company had delivered 400 of this line of aircraft in Europe, attaining a 30 percent market share in just four years. Socata opened a U.S. subsidiary, called Aerospatiale General Aviation, in Grand Prairie, Texas, in 1986.

Socata had 950 employees in 1985. Socata was involved in virtually all major French aerospace programs, reported Interavia. Total turnover was estimated at FFr 300 million ($40 million). By this time, its production was evenly split between light aircraft (both civil and military) and producing components (such as fuselage structures and engine pylons) for other manufacturers, particularly its sister companies in Aérospatiale's aircraft and helicopter divisions. Interavia reported that in 1985, Socata was studying the possibility of using Porsche AG's PFM 3200 engine on its TB-10 and TB-20 airframes (which would then be redesignated TB-15 and TB-16).

New Turboprops in the Late 1980s

Socata imported 75 of its four-seat, single-engine planes to the United States in 1986. China was another good market; in 1988 the Civil Aviation Administration of China bought 28 TB-20 Trinidads as trainers, even though French company Dassault was selling Mirage fighters to Taiwan. Socata later helped China establish its own maintenance center for the Trinidads, helping secure a relationship with one of the world's fastest growing aviation markets. In 1989, Socata unveiled a new trainer, the Omega, a turboprop version of the Epsilon. Flying schools accounted for half of Socata's light plane sales in the early 1990s.

Under development since the mid-1980s was the TBM 700, a $1 million, six- to eight-seat business aircraft. It began flight testing in 1988 and was a major advancement for the company. Using a turboprop rather than piston engine, it achieved performance rivaling small jets. It was designed to compete with twin-engine piston aircraft. A turboprop version of the Epsilon military trainer had its first flight the next year.

The TBM 700 was developed in partnership with Mooney Aircraft (hence the "M" in the plane's name), a maker of a popular line of general aviation planes that had in 1984 been acquired by France's Euralair Group, a charter, freight, and business jet operator. Valmet Oy of Finland also became a partner in the TBM 700 program.

New Types in the 1990s

Socata was in negotiations to acquire Piper Aircraft Corp. for eight months in 1990 and 1991. Discussions broke off in March 1991 due to Socata's reluctance to carry on Piper's policy of self-insurance for product liability. As a French company, Socata was not affected by the product liability legislation that had crippled the U.S. general aviation industry.

Mooney abandoned the TBM 700 project, in which it had a 30 percent share, just as Socata was delivering the first TBM 700 in May 1991. Mooney was to set up a second assembly line for the plane at its Kerrville, Texas facility, but proved unwilling to invest the money to do so. By this time, Socata had orders for 92 TBM 700s, 40 from the United States.

Socata rolled out another type, the fuel-injected TB 200 Tobago, in 1991. Due to slow private sales for the TBM 700, Socata began pitching it towards the military and utility markets. The plane's performance, short take-off ability, and pressurized cabin were key selling points.

In 1993, the TBM 700 set a Paris-to-Paris around-the-world record of 80 hours. By this time, the company had built 17,000 aircraft in its 82-year existence, noted Flight International. Though it still produced a full range of light planes, the company was doing as much subcontracting as it was building its own aircraft. Socata's new expertise in composites allowed it to build fuselage panels for the Airbus Industrie A340. The company was involved in a number of other Aerospatiale-linked projects, including the Falcon 900 business jet, and also worked for other manufacturers, such as Lockheed, which contracted Socata to build fuselage panels for its C-130 Hercules transport. Socata's factory employed about 1,000 people; a downturn in business was prompting the company to reduce this number by about 10 percent by the end of 1993.

Socata entered the twin-engine business in 1995, but did so by buying the rights to an aircraft design not built since 1979. The Cougar was developed by Greenville, Mississippi's American General Aircraft Corporation; Socata renamed its version the TB360 Tangara, aiming the four-place plane at the twin-engine trainer market.

The company's U.S. subsidiary was renamed Socata Aircraft in June 1996. A couple of months later, it moved from Grand Prairie, Texas, to North Perry Airport near Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

In 1997, Socata reported strong sales of its TB line of light aircraft, which was ordered by a number of flight schools in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. The company was developing a new Morane engine in cooperation with Renault Sport to run on kerosene or jet fuel instead of the more expensive avgas. In June, Chairman Jean-Marc de Raffin-Dourny resigned, to be replaced by Philippe Debrun of the Aerospatiale-controlled aero maintenance firm Revima. Socata's sales were about FFr 800 million ($145 million) for the year. In 1998, Socata posted a profit of FFr 260 million ($34.6 million) on sales of FFr 920 million ($122.42 million).

Parental Changes in 1999 and 2000

After the merger of Aerospatiale and Matra-Hachette, managers at Socata's parent company were considering putting the unit up for sale in October 1999. French aerospace equipment manufacturer Latecoere was one possible buyer. Its chairman, François Junca, was interested in assembling a major aerospace structures division.

In November 2000, Socata received its largest ever civil order, apart from flight schools, from its western U.S. distributor, New Avex of Camarillo, California. The order, for ten TBM700s, ten TB20 Trinidads, ten TB21 Trinidad GT Turbos, and one Tobago GT, was worth $33 million.

By this time, Socata parent Aerospatiale Matra had joined DaimlerChrysler Aerospace and Spain's CASA to create the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company EADS N.V. Socata became known as EADS SOCATA.

In June 2001, EADS SOCATA contracted Moravan-Aeroplanes to build fuselages for its Socata TB aircraft. Moravan had also been selected by EADS to supply parts for the Airbus A320 airliner.

Principal Subsidiaries: EADS SOCATA Aircraft USA; EADS SOCATA GmbH (Germany).

Principal Divisions: DAL; DAE.

Principal Competitors: Cessna Aircraft Company; The New Piper Aircraft, Inc.; Pilatus Aircraft Ltd.


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