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…
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.
|South African Airways||7||9||16|
|Hi Fly Malta||6||6|
|Swiss International Air Lines||5||5|
Airlines with a * plan to retire their A340s soon.
Out with the old in with the new
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.
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.
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.
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!