The Airbus A330 Vs Airbus A340 – Which Aircraft Is Better?

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When Airbus struck out to build a successor to its first aircraft, the Airbus A300, they began to build two different planes. The Airbus A330 for domestic and medium-haul routes, and a long-range Airbus A340 designed to compete with the famous Boeing 747. But these two aircraft, built together, were not built as equals. Which one was better?

A330 A340
The Airbus A330 vs the Airbus A340. Photo: Robert Frola via Wikipedia

How will we compare the two aircraft?

Comparing these two aircraft will be a little more complicated than it may first appear.

There are several key differences between the two aircraft right off the bat. For one, the Airbus A340 has a vastly different mission profile than the A330. It has two extra engines and can fly a massively further range.

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Additionally, there are actually four versions of the A340 and two of the Airbus A330. One version of each almost caters to the exact same range and passenger capacity. We will list out all six versions of the aircraft (skipping any freight versions) to see how they line up.

South African Airways has both A340s and A330s in its fleet. Photo: Getty Images

Airbus A330 vs Airbus A340

Here are the six types of Airbus A330/A340 aircraft ranked by passenger capacity:

  • Airbus A330-200 can carry 246 passengers in two classes to a range of 7,250 nautical miles.
  • Airbus A340-500 can carry 293 passengers in three classes to a range of 9,000 nautical miles.
  • Airbus A330-300 can carry 300 passengers in two classes to a range of 6,350 nautical miles
  • Airbus A340-200 can carry 303 passengers in two classes to a range of 7,600 nautical miles.
  • Airbus A340-300, 335 passengers in two classes to 7,150 nautical miles.
  • Airbus A340-600, 380 passengers in three classes to a range of 7,550 nautical miles.

Looking at the numbers

Looking at passengers we can see that the A340 makes better use of its bigger space and can fit in three cabin classes than the two on the A330. If you want to transport more people then the A340 is the way to go.

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Likewise, with range, the A340 series offers better than even the best A330-200 series (A340-300 almost meets the A330-200). Obviously from these factors, the A340 series is better for airlines who want to do long-haul routes.

Lufthansa A340 rainbow
The A340 is recognizable by its four engines with a single deck. Photo: Getty

What about fuel burn?

However, there is that question about how much fuel each series burns. According to this source, an A330-300, and an A340-300, both configured with 262 seats and flying 3000 nautical miles (a typical route for an airline) burns:

  • A330-300 – 2.98 L/100 km (79 mpg‑US)
  • A340-300 – 3.25 L/100 km (72 mpg‑US)

The extra engines on the A340 each require more fuel to burn, despite providing the same range and lifting capacity.

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On long-haul routes, the relationship seems the same. A 6,000 nautical mile journey has:

  • A330-200 with 240 seats – 3.32 L/100 km (71 mpg‑US)
  • A340-300 with 262 seats – 3.49 L/100 km (67.4 mpg‑US)

Despite having more seats onboard, a twin-engine aircraft simply has better economics for an airline.

Bottom line

At the end of the day, you only need to look at the succession of the two aircraft. The Airbus A330 has been succeeded by the Airbus A330neo series, upgrading the airframe with cosmetic improvements and new engines (Airbus following the motto ‘if it ain’t broke’) much like Airbus did with the A320neo.

The A340, on the other hand, was scrapped and Airbus built the new clean-sheet design A350 instead. With only two engines.

A330neo
A new Airbus A330neo takes to the skies. Photo: Getty

If Airbus themselves doesn’t believe it its product to bring it into the next generation, then we have our answer.

What do you think? Which Airbus product do you think is the better one? Let us know in the comments.

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