The A340 was an important development for Airbus – its first quadjet and strong competition against Boeing. He saw four different variants – two different capacity options at launch and two more variants later offering a different focus on range and capacity. Airbus delivered 377 A340s in total, but which airlines were the largest operators of each variant?
Development of the A340
The Airbus A340 succeeded Airbus’ success with the A300, A310 and A320. These had worked well for the new European manufacturer, and they wanted to go further with a larger jumbo jet. There were differing opinions internally and among airline customers as to whether a new development should be a two- or four-engine aircraft. This was before the introduction of ETOPS, when twin-engine aircraft were recognized as being much more efficient, there were still heavy restrictions on where they could fly.
The solution was to develop two aircraft – a twin-jet and a quad-jet. This would meet the needs of both customer groups, and there would be cost savings by developing the two aircraft together. Joint development of the A330 and A340 was initiated in 1986. The A340 first flew on October 21, 1991 and entered service with Lufthansa in March 1993.
The A340 is sometimes called a commercial failure. Although it sold in low numbers compared to many other aircraft types, that is not really the case. A total of 377 A340 aircraft have been delivered (to 48 airlines). But when considered alongside joint development with the more successful A340, it has always worked well for Airbus.
The A330 and the A340 were developed together by Airbus, with a lot in common. Photo: Getty Images
The largest operator – the A340-200
The A340-200 was one of two initial variants offered at launch in 1987. It is the shortest variant in the series, offering a typical two-class capacity of 303. Only 28 A340-200s were books.
Lufthansa also became the largest operator, with eight different aircraft in its fleet between launch and the end of 2003. One of them, however, was only leased to Air France for a few months in 1996. Air France followed closely with six planes. South African Airways also operated six aircraft – all borrowed from Lufthansa from 2003. Aircraft usage is based on data from ATDB.aero.
The A340-300 was the second variant offered at launch, with an increased capacity of 335. It was the first variant to be delivered to launch customer Lufthansa in 1993. It was also the most popular, with 218 aircraft delivered.
Again, Lufthansa was the largest operator. In total, it operated 44 aircraft. Here again, Air France follows Lufthansa with 33 aircraft. Several other airlines were also significant users, with Iberia operating 27 aircraft and Cathay Pacific operating 24.
The A340-500 and -600 variants were developed in the late 1990s as higher capacities and increased range upgrades. The A340-500 was launched in March 2003 with Emirates. The emphasis was on range, with capacity similar to that of the A340-300 but a wide range of 16,670 kilometers (9,000 nautical miles). It was the highest range of any aircraft until it was beaten by the A350ULR.
With this emphasis on range, its use was slightly different and Lufthansa did not exploit it. It was a niche aircraft and not as popular. Emirates was the largest operator, using the aircraft on its longest direct routes within the United States. It operated ten aircraft, the last of which retired in 2015.
Singapore Airlines also made good use of the A340-500 on its longest US routes (now operated by the A350ULR), but only operated five aircraft in total. Etihad did the same with its four planes.
The A340-600 was launched at the same time as the A340-500, which entered service shortly before it in 2002, at Virgin Atlantic. The stretched variant takes capacity up to the same area as the Boeing 747, with a typical capacity of 380 (but an exit limit of up to 440). It was the oldest aircraft in service (beating both the A380 and the Boeing 747-400) until the launch of the 747-8.
Lufthansa has once again made this variant a key part of its fleet. With 24 aircraft, it was the largest operator. Both Iberia and Virgin Atlantic operated 19 A340-600s.
Lufthansa was again the largest operator of the A340-600. Photo: Getty Images
The A340 has been a key aircraft for its largest operators for many years. It is now well into decline, however, accelerated by the pandemic. Feel free to discuss your flight memories and thoughts on the guy in the comments.
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