The Airbus A340 vs A380 – A 4 Engined Plane Showdown

There are three well known commercial passenger aircraft that have four engines. The famous Boeing 747, the huge Airbus A380 and the versatile A340. Why did Airbus build two quad-jet aircraft, and which is best? Let’s find out. 

Airbus
The Airbus A340 vs the Airbus A380

Why do some planes have four engines?

Back at the beginning of aviation, many jet aircraft had four engines. This was to help increase the flying power of the aircraft (allowing it to carry more weight) and to factor in redundancy. For journeys far away from any airport (or in the case of the Pacific Ocean, away from any land full stop!) four engines meant there were still three to fly on if one went wrong.

Famous quad-jet aircraft include:

  • De Havilland Comet, the world’s first commercial jetliner.
  • The Concorde (with four underwing mounted engines)
  • The game-changer Boeing 747

And the Airbus A380 and Airbus A340.

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However, today only the freight version of the Boeing 747-8 is still in production. The A380 and A340 have since been discontinued and replaced by twin-engine variants. This is due to a variety of factors, such as the approval of twin-jet aircraft to fly more remote routes away from diversion airports and a focus on fuel efficiency.

SAA A340
A SAA quad-jet. Photo: Alan Wilson / Wikimedia Commons

The Airbus A380 vs the Airbus A340

So how do the two quad-jets stack up compared to one another? Let’s explore.

  • The A380-800 could carry 555 passengers in a three-class configuration. Specifically listed as 22 first-class passengers, 96 business class passengers and 437 economy passengers or a massive 853 passengers in an all-economy configuration. It has a range of 14,800 km / 8,000 nm.
  • The A340-600, on the other hand, can carry 380 passengers in a three-class configuration. Specifically listed as 12 first-class passengers, 54 business class passengers and 314 economy passengers. In an all-economy configuration, the aircraft could carry 440 passengers. The aircraft has a range of 13,980 km / 7,550 nmi.

On paper, the Airbus A380-800 has an equal range and can carry plenty more passengers. This makes it ideal for popular routes in the 8-12 hour range as the fuel burn per seat cost would be significantly lower than the A340.

In terms of range, both aircraft match relatively close, with the A380 having the advantage of newer technology at the time of its development. If Airbus were to ever build the A340neo, then it is likely that this range would be massively extended. Also on that point, some suggest that in fact the A350 is the spiritual successor of the A340 as a twin-jet, and has all the improvements we would see in an A340neo.

Airbus
A340 was a successful aircraft for Airbus. Photo: Airbus

Which is best?

The A380 was designed for a very specific purpose. It was created to fly between hub airports and carry as many passengers as possible. In this role, it succeeds. However, outside of this deployment it’s statistics and trumped by other aircraft (especially those of the twin-jet variety).

Compared to the A340 series, the A380 comes up short. With the A380 requiring special airport modifications to land at, the having a capacity that is so huge it is difficult to fill up and be profitable, the smaller A340 is simply a more attractive aircraft for airlines.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments.

13 comments
  1. What about the BAe 146 ? Still flying with four engines…

    One day, a long-range twin-jet will disappear into an ocean – where a four engined airliner would get back -and we’ll all wonder how the airlines got away with lobbying for ever more imaginative ETOPS…

      1. Haha! I can add it if you like, but with only 30 built it was hardly a massive game changer for the industry.

  2. From a logistics point of view, it’s a good thing that new airplanes have two rather than four engines: engine manufacturers are having trouble keeping up production on the basis of two engines per aircraft, so they’d probably drown altogether if they had to deliver four engines per aircraft.
    Other than that, the chance of dispatch failure for a plane with four engines is statistically greater than that for an aircraft with two engines, so that’s one argument that airlines often cite against four engines.
    And, in certain ways, four engines are more dangerous than two: again, on the basis of statistics, the chance of a catastrophic engine failure (uncontained explosion; detachment; etc.) is greater when a plane has four engines than when it has two, and this is not good news if such failure causes damage to the rest of the airframe (such as punctured hydraulic/fuel lines, fuselage puncture, etc.).
    The biggest argument concerns efficiency: in general, a larger engine (of any type) tends to be more efficient than a smaller engine, which tilts the balance toward two larger engines rather than four smaller ones.

  3. Maybe you could compare the DC-8 and 707 seeming as they were two jetliners that changed the way we fly today.

  4. What does “However, today only the freight version of the Boeing 787-8 is still in production.” have to do with this?!

    1. Of all the 4-engine commercial aircraft still being built today, only the 747-8F is available new for organisations to buy.

  5. I still think the A340-600 is the most beautiful flying machine ever to be built, the 747 comes very close. I love the quads, 4 engine commercial planes. I still have hope there will be a more fuel efficient version quad in the future. So sad to see current ones disappear from the radar one by one, day by day, brings one close to tears

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