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A Farewell to the Airbus A340

The very first Airbus A340 takes shape inside their factory. Photo from Airbus.

The very first Airbus A340 takes shape inside their factory. Photo from Airbus.

I have always loved the look of the Airbus A340. In the early days of jet airlines, seeing a single-deck plane with four engines on the wing was common. By the time the A340 first flew on October 25, 1991, there weren’t too many Boeing 707s or Douglas DC-8s flying around. Even for the amateur aviation enthusiast, it has always been quite easy to spot an A340.

The engines might provide an easy tell on what kind of aircraft it was, but they also drained a lot of fuel. Airlines started to opt for two engine Airbus A330s and Boeing 777s instead of the A340. Due to a lack of demand, Airbus officially announced the end to the aircraft due to a,  “changing market dynamic,” (aka no orders) on November 10, 2011.

Although Airbus is no longer making the A340, there are still four that are left to be delivered. Two are set to go to VIP customers and two were ordered by Kingfisher Airlines. It is not certain when the final four will be delivered, but I am going to bet that Kingfisher might never take delivery of their two A340s due to their current financial difficulties.

The first Airbus A340-600 takes off in Airbus livery. Photo from Airbus.

The first Airbus A340-600 takes off in Airbus livery. Photo from Airbus.

Well, times have changed with ETOPS certification and today, two engine aircraft can fly much farther away from land than they used to. When the A340 was first produced, many passengers (and probably even airlines) were weary of flying over water with two engines and the Boeing 777 wasn’t even in production.

As Boeing Randy Tinseth points out in his blog, Airbus used creative advertising to possibly play off the fears of passengers who might not want to fly over the open seas using a two-engined aircraft. Obviously any fear that people might have had was put to rest with the success of many airliners who have successfully flown over open waters with only two engines.

Lufthansa Airbus A340-642 D-AIHE Leverkusen. Photo by Thomas Becker.

Lufthansa Airbus A340-642 D-AIHE Leverkusen. Photo by Thomas Becker.

There were a total of 379 of the A340 ordered and 365 are still in service today. Lufthansa Airlines is the largest operator of the A340 with 51 currently in service.

“Technological achievements during the last years today allow to operate aircraft of the size of the A340-300 efficiently with two engines, what hasn’t been the case earlier,” Nico Buchholz, Head of Lufthansa Group Fleet Management explained to AirlineReporter.com. “Still, on some routes the A340-300 is still superior to it’s twin-engine competitors, with regards to payload and flight performance. In light of the huge accomplishments made, however, aircraft of this segment now and in the future are clearly twin-engines, as demonstrated impressively by B777, A330, B787 and A350 aircraft.”

Currently,  Lufthansa is not planning to replace any of their A340 fleet anytime soon. “We keep on applying modifications to make them more fuel-efficient, reduce noise or make cockpit modifications,” Buchholz explained. “That being said, our fleet is economically and technically up to date and we have no huge pressure to make a buying decision here. We will decide at an appropriate time.”

Singapore Airlines Airbus A340-500 landing at LAX.

Singapore Airlines Airbus A340-500 landing at LAX. Photo by Bob Connolley

Singapore Airlines only operates five of the A340 aircraft, but they are unique in using them to fly the world’s two longest flights: Los Angeles (LAX) and Newark (EWR) to Singapore (SIN). Flight SQ21, from EWR to SIN,  is the longest scheduled airline flight in the world, which is 9,535 miles and takes almost 19 hours. Flight SQ 37, from LAX to SIN, is the world’s second longest flight at 8,770 miles and takes about 18 hours. Both of these flights exclusively use the Airbus A340-500 aircraft. “What the aircraft does is create a non-stop link between the US and Singapore for growth,” James Boyd, Singapore Airline’s Vice President of Communications for the Americas explained to AirlineReporter.com.

At the time that Singapore Airlines started the flights, the A340-500 was the only aircraft capable of operating routes that long. Even today, there are only two aircraft that are able to handle the route: the A340-500 and Boeing 777-200LR.

Even though Singapore Airlines also operates the 777, Boyd explained that they are not planning on replacing their A340-500s anytime soon. Recently the airline invested quite a bit of money updating all five cabins on their A340s to all Business Class, providing the same product that is found on their Airbus A380.

Singapore Airlines is unique due to operating aircraft that many see as directly competing against each other: the Boeing 777 and Airbus A340/A330, the Boeing 747 and Airbus A380, and they have the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350 on order. Why? Because many of their routes are market and destination specific and each route is specifically matched up to the aircraft it uses and for them, that means a diverse fleet. Singapore’s two routes that use the A340-500s are very profitable and it wouldn’t make any sense to change out aircraft.

Air France Airbus A340-300 landing at the iconic Saint Maarten. Photo by Jordi Grife..

Air France Airbus A340-300 landing at the iconic Saint Maarten. Photo by Jordi Grife..

The end of the Airbus A340 leaves only two quad jets that remain in commercial airliner production: The Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental and the Airbus A380. As engines become more efficient, will there be more quad jets into the future? Probably not, but for those of us that get a kick out of seeing jets with more than two engines, at least we will see the A340 still flying for quite some time to come.

 Images:
Lufthansa A340 – Thomas Becker
Singapore A340 – Bob Connolly
Air France A340 – Jordi Grife 

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