How The Airbus A340-500 Opened The Door To The Longest Flight

In 2004, an Airbus A340-500 made history by flying the longest route in the world from Singapore to Los Angeles non-stop. The journey took 14 hours and 40 minutes to complete, flying 14,093 km. This route was also the predecessor to Singapore Airlines’ flight from Singapore to New York, which still holds the title of the longest flight in the world. Here’s how the Airbus A340-500 opened the door to the world’s longes routes.

The unparalleled range of the A340-500 opened the door to modern ultra-long-haul routes. Photo: Angelo DeSantis via Wikimedia Commons

All about range

The A340-500 is the long-range variant of the A340 family, offering unprecedented range to open new routes for airlines. With a range of 9,000 nautical miles (16,668 km/10357 mi), the aircraft had a longer range than competitor 777-200LR (8,555 nautical miles). The A340-500’s range opened routes that were unheard of at the time, including a direct link between Perth and London.

To achieve this range, Airbus had to modify parts of the A340-500, including adding new fuel tanks and stretching the fuselage and wings. The plane could carry a massive 50% more fuel than the A340-300 and seated up to 313 passengers (although a lower capacity is needed to maximize the aircraft range).

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Airbus A340-500
The A340-500 was 4.2 meters longer than -300 and offered a higher cruising altitude. Photo: Airbus

The 9,000nm range of the A340-500 allowed many airlines to operate new intercontinental routes or existing ones more efficiently. Emirates began its first flights to North America (Dubai to New York) using -500, while Air Canda used the plane on its Toronto-Hong Kong service. However, it was Singapore Airlines which broke records with the A340-500.

Singapore to the US

Singapore Airlines took great advantage of the A340-500, operating the first modern ultra-long-haul routes using the aircraft. As mentioned, the aircraft flew from Singapore to Los Angeles, an over 14,000km journey that comfortable overtook the previous longest flight from Hong Kong to Newark. However, the aircraft also opened the door to the current longest flight in the world: Singapore to New York.

Singapore Airlines first operated its SIN-EWR in June 2004, flying over 15,300km between the two cities. The 18-hour journey was flown on a premium-heavy A340-500, which featured 64 business class and 117 “Executive Economy” (akin to premium economy) seats onboard. The plane later featured a 100 seat, all-business class cabin.

Singapore Airlines A340-500
Singapore Airlines used the plane on some of the longest routes in the world. Photo: Airbus

While the new routes were record-breaking, Singapore Airlines pulled the plug on the SIN-EWR route in early 2013, citing a lack of revenue. Overall, the aircraft struggled to find a robust market, with only a few customers.

Why did it not gain success?

Similar to the 777-200LR, the A340-500 only garnered a handful of orders from airlines despite its lofty range. Many airlines pointed to the inefficiency of the four-engine A340, which consumed much more fuel than its twin-engine counterparts. With restrictions on the total number of passengers (well under 300) to maximize range, the A340-500 made little economic sense for traditional carriers.

How The Airbus A340-500 Opened The Door To The Longest Flight
The A350-900ULR now flies many of the routes operated by the A340-500, including Singapore to Newark. Photo: Airbus

However, the A340-500 is undoubtedly the pioneer of ultra-long-haul travel and the longest routes in the world. The -500’s range was later beaten by the A350-900ULR, which offers greater range and higher efficiency.

Have you ever flown the A340-500? Which other routes did the aircraft serve? Let us know in the comments below!