The A340 has been far from the most popular aircraft. Over the 20 years it was in production, only 377 aircraft have been delivered to airlines. European airlines have led the way, with both Lufthansa and Iberia operating sizeable fleets. It remains in service with Lufthansa and a few other European, Middle Eastern, and African airlines.
The Airbus A330 and A340
The A340 was AIrbus’ first quadjet. It followed on from Airbus’ success with the A300 and A310 and was launched in 1991. Airbus developed it to take on Boeing and the 747, which had launched much earlier but sold very well, with little competition.
When the project was being considered, airline preference for a high capacity twin-engine or four-engine aircraft was split. It was very early days for ETOPS regulations, and the increases this gave to twins. Four-engine was still very much the preference for longer flights (particularly in Asia and Europe). Airbus’ solution was to offer both, and the A330 and A340 were jointly developed to offer this. This saved cost in development and also offered airlines commonality in the flight deck.
Four A340 variants
The A340 entered service with Lufthansa in March 1993. The initial variants offered at launch were the A340-200 and the stretched A340-300. Only 28 of the smaller variant were ordered, with the slightly larger A340-300 proving much more popular, with 218 aircraft delivered.
Higher capacity and longer range variants were developed during the late 1990s. The A340-500 entered service in 2001 with Emirates. It offers a range of 9,000 nautical miles (16,670 kilometers) – the highest range of any aircraft until beaten by the A350ULR. And the highest capacity A340-600 entered service in 2002 with Virgin Atlantic.
The A340-600 went on to be the second most ordered variant, with 97 orders. The A340-500 played an important niche role but only had 32 orders.
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Top A340 operator – Lufthansa
Lufthansa was the launch customer for the A340, initially ordering it to replace its aging DC-10s on its New York services. It went on to be the type’s largest operator, ordering a total of 62 aircraft – including eight A340-200, 30 A340-300, and 24 A340-600 aircraft.
Lufthansa has been a significant Airbus widebody operator, with the A300, A310, A330, A340, A350, and A380 orders. Of course, it operated the Boeing 747 and now has orders for the 787 and 777X.
Along with many other A340s and larger jets, the fleet has suffered during the pandemic. By May 2020, the entire fleet had been grounded and sent to storage at Teruel graveyard. Some A340-300s have since returned to service, but the A340-600s will not. In June 2021, it put 12 of its A340-600s up for sale.
Followed by Iberia and Virgin Atlantic
In second place is fellow European airline Iberia – with 34 A340s in total. It was also an early adopter of the A340-300, taking its first aircraft in 1996. It added the A340-600 in 2003. These were intended to replace its aging Boeing 747-300 aircraft.
Iberia confirmed the retirement of its entire A340 fleet in June 2020. Prior to the pandemic, it planned to phase out its remaining A340-600 aircraft up to 2025.
Virgin Atlantic also operated the A340-300 and A340-600, with 21 aircraft ordered in total. Including leased aircraft, it operated 29 aircraft. Virgin Atlantic confirmed the retirement of its last three aircraft in April 2020,
Singapore Airlines and the A340
Singapore Airlines comes in top outside Europe (and fourth overall) for A340 operators but has a slightly different story with the aircraft. It ordered the A340-300 after its previously ordered MD-11 aircraft did not offer the range required in testing. It later added the A340-500 to use on ultra-long-haul services to the US – until replaced by the A350-900ULR.
For a summary of all A340 orders, see the following table:
|Airline||A340-200/300 orders||A340-500/600 orders||Total orders|
|International Lease Finance Corporation||16||13||29|
A340s still in service
All of the top operators here have now retired their A340s, apart from Lufthansa. It still operates a fleet of A340-300s. According to data from ch-aviation.com, as of July 2021, it still has 17 aircraft, with 14 of them in active use. In February 2021, at least one aircraft received a new paint job – certainly an indication that the -300s are not going anywhere just yet.
— IAC (@IAC_Ltd) February 15, 2021
Next up is the Iranian airline Mahan Air. It still has a fleet of 11 A340s (five A340-300s and six A340-600s). With sanctions making new aircraft purchases difficult, airlines in Iran hold on to older fleets for longer. Mahan Air also still operates the A300 and A310.
Amongst the other airlines still operating a few aircraft, we have:
- Kam Air – the Afghanistan-based airline, operates five A340-300s (its only widebody aircraft).
- Edelweiss Air – four A340-300s.
- Air Belgium – three A340-300s.
The A340 was never the most popular or more ordered aircraft. Still, it has been well used by several airlines – especially Lufthansa. Feel free to share your thoughts on the aircraft or your experience flying on it in the comments.