Back Again: The World’s Only Active Airline Airbus A340-500

The A340-500 is virtually extinct in scheduled airline use. In 2021, Azerbaijan Airlines (AZAL) used one aircraft between Baku and Moscow and the Turkish resort of Bodrum before the type was grounded in early September. It marked the end of the A340-500 commercially, but it was only temporary. One aircraft has returned to service, but for how long?

AZAL A340-500
There is only one active A340-500 in airline service, but for how long? Photo: Dmitry Terekhov via Flickr.

AZAL is again using the A340-500

While there are still government and VIP A340-500s, there is currently only one scheduled airline route anywhere globally. Since December 28th, AZAL has been using 4K-AZ85 – the last A340-500 in commercial use – between Baku, the Azerbaijan capital, and Dubai. It has operated flights J211 and J212, leaving Baku at 10:00 and returning at 17:10.

AZAL has scheduled the quadjet to operate a few flights to Dubai. It has supplemented multiple other types. Since December 28th, AZAL has used the A340-500, A320, B757-200, and B767-300ER to the UAE’s largest city, with the A319 due to operate soon.

According to OAG, the four-engine aircraft will operate no scheduled flights after January 5th. Of course, this may be temporary. It’ll likely to be recalled to service as and when needed. Although there is no firm indication that it’ll be used later this year, it’s reasonable to assume that it will be.

Dubai to Baku
The A340-500 last operated from Dubai back to Baku on December 30th. It is next down to fly to the UAE on January 5th. Image: RadarBox.com.

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A look at the carrier’s A340-500s

AZAL has a relatively small but diverse fleet. It has two A340-500s (4K-AZ85 and 4K-AZ86) with an average age of 13.8 years, according to ch-aviation.com. Both aircraft are company-owned and delivered in 2013. While 4K-AZ86 is believed to have last flown in November 2020, sistership 4K-AZ85 has been used in a limited way. It is unlikely that 4K-AZ86 will fly again in commercial service.

AZAL A340-500
AZAL’s A340-500s have 237 seats, with 201 in economy (2-4-2 layout) and 36 fully flat business seats (2-2-2). Photo: Aktug Ates via Flickr.

The A340-500: a quick summary

The A340-500 entered service in 2003 and had the longest flight envelope of any widebody commercial aircraft. Its four engines were vital. They meant it was exempt from restrictive extended-range twin-engine operational performance standards (ETOPS) legislation.

This meant that brand-new ultra-long-haul routes could be operated non-stop, then a revolutionary concept. In 2004, Singapore Airlines launched Singapore to Los Angeles and Newark, with the latter the world’s longest route at 9,534 miles (15,344km).

Despite pushing the range boundary, the A340-500 has always been unpopular. It was designed for a very limited role, which meant that very few airlines used it. Then came the B777-200LR, a more cost-efficient twin, which effectively ended the A340-500 program.

Do you think the A340-500 will be used in the summer, such as to the vacation destination of Bodrum? Or do you think it’ll return on different routes on a sporadic basis? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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