Sadly, nowadays, passenger quad-jets are becoming a relatively rare sight. Four-engine aircraft are being replaced with more efficient two-engine aircraft such as the 787 and the A350. One aircraft with four engines was the A340, sadly they are no longer in production and are slowly being phased out by airlines around the world. Let’s fly back in time and take a look at Airbus’ first quad, the A340.
In 1987 before the Paris Airshow, European aircraft manufacturer, Airbus launched the A340 together with the A330 series. The initial variants on offer for the A340 were the – 200 which entered service with Air France respectively in May 1993. The – 300 entered service with Lufthansa in March 1993. This was followed later by the longer-ranged and re-engined variants. The newer options were the – 500 which entered service with Emirates in November 2003 and the – 600 with Virgin Atlantic in July 2002. Fast-forward to June 2020, however, production has stopped, and only a handful of airlines still operate the type.
Let’s delve deeper into the four main variants and break down their characteristics, along with more information about how many were produced and which of the types are still in operation.
One of two first variants the – 200 was produced to seat around 210 – 250 passengers in a typical 3-class layout. It has a digital fly-by-wire flight-deck (all A340’s have this flight deck) with a max range of around 12,500 km. The dimensions of the -200 variant are 59.4 m with the wingspan being longer than its length at 60.30 m. Its height stands at 16.80 m, and 4 CFM-56 engines power the type. At the time, airlines were looking to replace older inefficient aircraft such as DC-10’s, and by ordering the Airbus A340 airlines did not have to worry about ETOPS (Extended Twin- range Operational Performance Standards). The – 200 entered service with Air France in May 1993. However, the A340-200 did not fare well on sales due to the aircraft being quite heavy and also having a high fuel consumption. As a result, only 28 of the type were produced. Nowadays there is only one passenger A340-200 aircraft in commercial service today. This aircraft is registered YV1004 and operated for Venezuelan carrier Conviasa. YV1004 is a 27-year-old aircraft that was first delivered to Air France. Any remaining A340-200s are now used for VIP and government services.
The other initial variant was the – 300 which would go on to be the most popular variant of the A340 series. A total of 218 -300s were delivered to a variety of airlines. The aircraft is powered by 4 CFM-56 engine’s. The -300 was given an increased length of 63.69 m, with a wingspan 60.30 m and a height of 16.99 m. In 3 class layout, the type typically carries between 250 – 290 people. This type had an increased maximum range of 13,500 km. Again a huge selling point for this variant was it’s long-range and its lack of ETOPS restrictions. Airlines were able to older aircraft such as DC-10s and L1011 Tristars. The – 300 entered service with Lufthansa in March 1993. Numerous airlines have operated the type over the years even though the number is declining as more economical twin-engined aircraft such as the A350-900 takes the A340s place. Some airlines that currently operate the A340-300 are Kam Air, Mahan Air, Lufthansa and Swiss International.
A decade after the first two variants being released, the -500 and -600 options were released. While the newer aircraft looked the same; Airbus made some substantial changes. More modern, bigger, heavier, more efficient and more powerful engines from a different supplier were added. The A340s vertical and horizontal stabilisers were enlarged along with a new wing with an increased span, sweep and area. The -500 and -600s landing gear was modified, and extra wheels were added. The new variants came with around a 50% increase in fuel capacity and a 100T increase in max take-off weight!
The -500 was primarily developed for the ULH (Ultra Long Haul) market and was seen by Airbus as a B747 replacement with its range extended to 16,670 km. The aircraft featured a fuselage stretch that took its length to 67.93 m; wingspan is 63.45 m with height being 17.53 m. The engines were upgraded to Rolls Royce Trent 500’s for better fuel efficiency as well as fuel capacity. The – 500 which entered service with Emirates in November 2003, and like its shortest sister the – 200 did not fair well with sales ultimately reaching only 34 units. High fuel prices, as well as being primarily used on ULH routes, made the market a hard one to enter and the aircraft became a niche. The continued development of large twin-engined wide-body aircraft also made the A340 a less desirable option for airlines. As of June 1, 2020, only Azerbaijan Airlines operates the last two passenger versions of the – 500. Their respective tail numbers being 4K-AZ85 & 4K-AZ86.
Similarly to the -500, Airbus designed the last variant of the family as a replacement for early 747 variants. The – 600 incorporated a stretch which increased its length to 75.36m, wingspan being at 63.45 m and height being at 17.93m. It has a range of 14 450 km. A typical 3 class layout allows the aircraft to carry 320 – 370 passengers. Like the – 500 it is powered by 4 Trent 500’s. It was the longest aircraft in the world until the Boeing 747-8 was produced. The – 600 entered service with Virgin Atlantic in July 2002. VA retired their A340 fleet in March 2020. Current operators include Mahan Air, Plus Ultra, Iberia (to be retired by the end of 2020) and Lufthansa (their fleet is temporarily decommissioned).
Unfortunately, the future for the A340 looks rather bleak; the COVID-19 pandemic has already caused some of the few airlines that operate the A340 to retire their aircraft early. While Lufthansa is temporarily decommissioning their A340 fleet, there is no guarantee that they will return to service. Airlines also continue to look more favourably at more fuel-efficient aircraft such as the Airbus A350 and Boeing 787. The A330neo and A350 are both successors to the A340.
I have been quite privileged to have been able to fly on three out the four variants of the Airbus A340. These were an Aerolineas Argentinas A340-200, A LAN Chile A340-300 and an Emirates A340-500.