When Will The Last Airbus A340 Be Retired?

In March 1993 the A340 made its entry into service with its launch customers Air France and Lufthansa. A relatively short 18 years later in 2011, the A340’s production came to a stop. Since then airlines have been slowly replacing their fleets of Airbus A340 aircraft with twin-jet aircraft that are just as large. The newer twin-jets are not only more fuel efficient but are also easier to maintain with fewer engines. So when will the last A340 see retirement? Let’s take a look at the numbers…

Lufthansa Group Boeing 777X premium economy
SWISS has five Airbus A340 aircraft remaining. Photo: SWISS

The largest operators

The chart below shows the top 10 airlines with the largest fleets of A340s as of May 2019, according to Wikipedia. We can see that Lufthansa dominates the pack with an astounding 31. Spain’s Iberia, South African Airways, and Iran’s Mahan Air also have notable numbers of the aircraft as well.

AirlineA340-200/300A340-500/600Total
Lufthansa15*17*31
Iberia1717
South African Airways7916
Mahan Air5712
Scandinavian Airlines88
European Skybus66
Hi Fly Malta66
Virgin Atlantic6*6
Swiss International Air Lines55
Air Belgium44

Airlines with a * plan to retire their A340s soon.

Out with the old in with the new

Virgin Atlantic, Airbus A340, Retirement
Virgin Atlantic is set to retire their Airbus A340s by the end of the year. Photo: Laurent ERRERA via Wikimedia

In looking up news of A340 fleets and news of replacements, it seems very clear that the A350 is the aircraft of choice to directly take the place of the larger A340-600. This is evidenced by news from some of the larger operators as we’ll see below.

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While Lufthansa has the largest fleet, their A340s will be replaced by Airbus A350s and Boeing 787s. According to Wikipedia, the German carrier will have 45 A350-900s when deliveries end. For now, 15 have been delivered with another 30 on order and will trickle in until 2027 to replace Airbus A340-600s. Lufthansa will replace their A340-300 fleet with the smaller Boeing 787-9s. Deliveries of the 787-9 are to begin in 2022 and may be spread out across the entire Lufthansa Group which also includes SWISS and Austrian.

As for the other fleets, it looks like at least Iberia’s four older A340-600s are to be replaced by the Airbus A350-900. At the beginning of the month we got news that South African Airways (SAA) is rejuvenating its fleet with the leasing of two Airbus A350-900 aircraft to replace two Airbus A340-600s that are 15 years old. However, no clarity has been given on the rest of the SAA A340 fleet.

SAS retired the first of its A340s earlier this month and will be taking deliveries of the A350-900 from January 2020. However, there is no news on a set timeline for phasing out the remaining aircraft. Finally, when it comes to Virgin Atlantic’s fleet, we know from another Simple Flying article that Virgin Atlantic has plans to retire all of its A340s by the end of 2019. Again, this will go hand in hand with the airline receiving its first four Airbus A350-1000s by the end of this year.

Qatar Airways flew its A340 for the last time this past April. Photo: Aero Icarus from Zurich, Switzerland

The airline with no other options…

Then there’s the “odd one out”: Mahan Air. What makes them stand out is that they have the fourth largest fleet of A340s with no plan to replace them with similarly sized widebody, high-capacity aircraft. Why is this?

Well in one word: Politics.

Iran’s airlines aren’t able to purchase any aircraft from the duopoly of Airbus and Boeing due to sanctions. These sanctions were temporarily lifted and Iran Air rushed in to place large orders with Boeing and Airbus at a collective cost of US$38 billion at list prices. However, with the President Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran Nuclear Deal and the resumption of sanctions, those orders are effectively cancelled.

According to the newspaper, Asharq Al-Awsat, US Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Sigal Mandelker said in January that the US Treasury is aggressively targeting groups that support Mahan air:

“Iran continues to leverage Mahan Air and its commercial aviation sector to transport individuals and weapons needed to carry out this tragic campaign and to fuel sectarian conflict throughout the region. We are aggressively targeting those who continue to provide commercial support to Mahan Air and other designated airlines, and any who fail to heed our warnings expose themselves to severe sanctions risk.”

We can’t say for sure that Mahan Air would have placed an order for new aircraft in the same manner as Iran Air. However, even if they wanted to at this point, it would not be possible. Therefore, it has no choice but to maintain their current fleet and make sure they fly for as long as possible.

Mahan Air A340
Mahan Air are launching flights to Venezuela. Photo: Wikimedia

Conclusion

So unfortunately we’re really not able to decisively answer the question posed in the title of this article. If you look at the age of the rest of Mahan Air’s fleet you’ll see that it’s still flying the Airbus A300 and A310. Some of these aircraft are nearing 30 years old and these widebodies don’t really have replacements on the horizon either. Oh – there’s also their 33.5 year old 747!

Since Mahan Air’s A340s are 10 years younger than its A310s and A330s, it looks like we could see the A340 flying well through the next decade and into the 2030s. Perhaps with the exception of Iran, we think most of them will be retired by around the mid to late 2020s?

Do you agree or disagree? Is there a factor we’re missing? Let us know by leaving a comment!

 

6 comments
  1. The 727 stopped production in 1984. Delta/Northwest retired the last US-based 727s in 2003 and the last commercial flight was by an Iranian airline in 2019.
    So I’m guessing around 2030 for major airlines and late 2040s for some of the obscure developing country airlines.

  2. “In March 1993 the A340 made its entry into service with its launch customers Air France and Lufthansa. A relatively short eight years later in 2011, the A340’s production came to a stop.”

    1993 and 2011 are 18 years apart.

    1. Oops – thanks for the math lesson! I’ve fixed that up!

      Just noting that other aircraft models in the skies today have had much longer production spans with their updated variants – the A320, A330, B767, etc. The 747s first flight was in 1969 and is still in production with its newer variants (even if its rather limited). The A380 had a fairly short run with 14 years as production is scheduled to stop in 2021.

  3. Lufthansa has not yet decided where they will put the new orders of 20+20 Airbus A359 and B787. 25 A359 LH did in their initial order. 15 are delivered so far – all based in Munich.
    LH Group decided based on these orders, that they will return some 6x A388 to Airbus in 2022 and 2023. They probably will be replaced by orders of B779.
    LH group will not only retire all A343 and A346, but also all B744 (not B748). Also they will retire B767 and B772 from Austrian. And last but not least another 4x A343 from Edelweiss and 5x A343 from Swiss will be replaced by 2025. Edelweiss and Swiss A343 most probably will have the same aircrafts as being on the same hub and technically operated by Swiss. No official decision or communication yet if Swiss/Edelweiss get A359 or B787. Taken into consideration the current passenger trends, I believe Swiss/Edelweiss will rather get A359 as those will be slightly bigger than B787. LH Group might rather want to grow more on the Zurich hub as this is more profitable.
    A total of 40 planes in the Group will be retired and thats why LH Group did the order for 20+20.
    Austrian might get new B788 or even (some) used A333 from the Group.
    And I believe LH will replace some A343 in Frankfurt (their Boeing longhaul hub; B744, B748, B779 but also having A333 and A359) with B787 to have more options.
    Munich most probably will stay an Airbus only hub for wide body (A388, A359 and potentially some A333). The most unclear is what Swiss and Edelweiss will get… A359 or Dreamliners.

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