13 Years Of Service: Emirates’ Airbus A340-500s

While Emirates’ passenger fleet now consists only of the A380, B777-300ER, and B777-200LR, it has operated an array of other widebody types. These include the A340-500, introduced between 2003 and 2005 and withdrawn in 2016 after a final rotation to Kabul, Afghanistan. The last aircraft to leave was A6-ERE, now stored at Teruel, Spain.

Emirates A340-500
Emirates operated 10 A340-500s and fully retired the type in 2016. Photo: Bulent Kavakkoro via Flickr.

Emirates’ A340-500s

Emirates had 10 A340-500s in all (IATA code: 345), each with 258 seats. These were spread across 204 seats in economy (with a decent 33″ pitch), 42 in business, and 12 in first class. Between 2004 and 2016, the 345 had 17.8 million round-trip seats or just 3.1% of Emirates’ total capacity in that period, analyzing OAG schedules data indicates.

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The year of the A340-500’s full retirement, 2016, was also crucial as the A340-300, A330-200, and B777-200 were also withdrawn that year. This meant that Emirates’ fleet reduced from eight types to four, with the non-Extended Range B777-300s leaving two years later. This resulted in the three types now in use. In May, we examined the growing relationship between Emirates and flydubai, primarily because of the latter’s narrowbodies and what they enable.

Emirates' A340-500 use
The A340-500 was conceived as an ultra-long-haul aircraft, but notice how Emirates’ use of it saw distance reduce in most years. The quadjet’s higher use in 2011-2013 was partly the result of being deployed on significantly shorter routes. Source of data: OAG.

Auckland was number-one for the type

If 2004-2016 is combined, the top destination for Emirates’ A340-500s was Auckland, a route served by the quadjet for many years until 2011. However, while it would have been an ultra-long-haul (ULH) route if it were served non-stop, it was always via Australia: Sydney, Melbourne, or Brisbane. It wasn’t until 2016 that Dubai-Auckland became non-stop, operated by the A380 and B777-200LR.

  1. Auckland
  2. Melbourne
  3. Seychelles
  4. Zurich
  5. Sydney
  6. New York JFK
  7. Osaka Kansai
  8. Christchurch
  9. Beirut
  10. Perth
  11. Entebbe
  12. Dar Es Salaam
  13. Nairobi
  14. Vienna
  15. Moscow Domodedovo
Emirates A340-500
Emirates’ peak use of the -500 was in 2012. In that year, some 28 destinations saw it, led by the 2,057-mile link to the Seychelles, followed by Beirut, Dar Es Salaam, Vienna, and Accra/Abidjan. Nairobi, where this photo was taken, had the ninth highest amount of seats. Photo: UR-SDV via Wikimedia.

The A340-500 was a very niche aircraft

The A340-500 entered commercial service 18 years ago in 2003. The purpose was clear and logical: to have the longest flight envelope of any widebody commercial aircraft. Its four engines were key too: they meant it was exempt from restrictive ETOPS legislation.

This all meant one thing: new ULH routes could be operated non-stop. Singapore Airlines led the way, with ULH services between Singapore and Los Angeles and Singapore to Newark in 2004. The latter route is some 9,534 miles. In contrast, Emirates’ longest non-stop 345 route was Dubai-Sydney, at 7,480 miles, although its average route was almost half: 3,837 miles.

Emirates A340-500
The sole North America destination to welcome the type was New York JFK, which was served until 2008. Photo: Aero Icarus via Wikimedia.

The A340-500 has never been a popular aircraft. This is because of its very niche role, which necessarily meant the market for the type was minimal. ULH is enormously hard to make work in the best times with low fuel prices and a strong economy, let alone with gas-guzzling four-engine aircraft whose performance was in serious doubt.

emirates-airbus-a340
Emirates operated the quad from 2003 until 2016. Photo: Airbus.

Then a more cost-efficient and ULH twin – the B777-200LR – came about, effectively ending the A340-500 program for commercial airlines. Its aircraft’s role since then became even more niche or even more mainstream and sub-optimal, depending on how you look at it.

And now, in August 2021, Azerbaijan Airlines is primarily using the sole active passenger A340-500 on the 1,224-mile link from Baku to the Turkish tourist resort of Bodrum.

Did you fly Emirates’ A340-500? If so, share your memories in the comments.

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