Soon To Be Extinct: The Airbus A340-500

The A340-500 is now used by just one airline on one route: Azerbaijan Airlines from Baku to Moscow Domodedovo. When this ends later this month, there are currently no more scheduled routes by the aircraft. The type has never been popular because of its niche role, and it is now all but extinct in a commercial sense.

Soon To Be Extinct: The Airbus A340-500
Emirates was the largest user of the A340-500 in the past decade. Photo: Airbus.

It’s official. The A340-500 is now the world’s least-used passenger widebody still in commercial service. This is the result of only one remaining active aircraft. It is registered 4K-AZ85, and it’s operated by AZAL Azerbaijan Airlines. A second example, 4K-AZ86, is parked, Planespotters.net confirms.

AZAL deploys the sole remaining active 345 on just one route: from Baku to Moscow Domodedovo. But not for long. Operating twice-weekly, it will stop being used later this month. The B767-300ER will then take over before it too is replaced – this time by the A320ceo. Simple Flying examined all operating aircraft this summer and found that the A320ceo is the world’s most-used aircraft.

At the time of writing, 4K-AZ85 is operating AZAL flight J2181 bound to Domodedovo. The 1,172-mile route has an actual flight time of around two hours and 45 minutes out and about two-and-a-half back.

Soon To Be Extinct: The Airbus A340-500
J2181 has passed the Russian city of Astrakhan and is now near Volgograd. Image: Radarbox.com.

A very niche aircraft

The A340-500 entered service 18 years ago in 2003. The purpose was clear and logical: to have the longest flight envelope of any widebody commercial aircraft. Its four engines were key, too: they meant it was exempt from restrictive ETOPS legislation.

This all meant one thing, at least in theory: new ultra-long-haul (ULH) routes could be operated non-stop. Singapore Airlines led the way, with ULH services between Singapore and Los Angeles and Singapore to Newark in 2004. The latter route is some 9,534 miles.

Soon To Be Extinct: The Airbus A340-500
Singapore Airlines retired the A340-500 in 2013. It used the aircraft on just two routes in the last few years: Singapore to Los Angeles and Newark. Photo: Airbus.

Yet the A340-500 has never been a popular aircraft. This is because of its very niche role, which necessarily meant the market for the type was minimal. ULH is enormously hard to make work in the best times with low fuel prices and a strong economy, let alone with gas-guzzling four-engine aircraft whose performance was in serious doubt.

Then a more cost-efficient and ULH twin – the B777-200LR – came about, effectively ending the A340-500 program for commercial airlines. Its role since then became even more niche.

Soon To Be Extinct: The Airbus A340-500
ACMI provider HiFly has played an important role in the life of the A340-500, with various airlines wet leasing the type for short-term work. Photo: BriYYZ via Wikimedia.

Now virtually vanished

Even in 2011, the A340-500 had just a 0.52% share of all widebody seats globally, analyzing OAG data reveals, which shrunk to just 0.01% in 2019. And now, in 2021, it has barely 3,000 seats by the type – all by AZAL on this one route.

Soon To Be Extinct: The Airbus A340-500
A key part of AZAL’s A340-500 operations has often been non-scheduled work; perhaps the type will continue in this vein. Source: OAG Schedules Analyzer

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Key A340-500 operators

The A340-500 has had just 12.9 million scheduled seats since 2011 across six main airlines, as follows.

  1. Emirates: 8.2 million seats, or nearly two-thirds of the total at 63.6%
  2. Etihad Airways: 2.7 million; 21.2%
  3. Arik Air: one million; 7.8%
  4. Thai Airways: 377,000; 2.3%
  5. Singapore Airlines: 351,000; 2.7%
  6. AZAL: 139,000; 1.1%
Soon To Be Extinct: The Airbus A340-500
Eight of the A340-500’s top-10 thickest routes since 2011 involved Dubai and Emirates: Seychelles; Beirut; Entebbe; Nairobi; Vienna; Moscow Domodedovo; and Tunis. The only two that didn’t were Lagos-Heathrow and Lagos-New York JFK with Arik Air. Photo: Angelo DeSantis via Wikimedia.

In addition, a raft of other carriers used the aircraft on a short-term and wet lease basis from aircraft, crew, maintenance, and insurance (ACMI) provider HiFly. These include Norwegian, SAS, TAP Air Portugal, El Al, and Finnair. The latter used it from Helsinki to New York JFK.

Norwegian, meanwhile, used it in two years: 2016 and 2018. In 2016, the type was used on routes from Helsinki, including Athens, Nice, Paris Orly, and Rome Fiumicino. Two years later, it was used from Barcelona to both Newark and Oakland.

As the A340-500 comes to an end, what are your memories of the type? Comment below!

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