How Things Change: Iberia’s First A340 Arrived 25 Years Ago

It has been a quarter of a century since Iberia received its first A340. Registered EC-GGS, it was an A340-300, one of 21 operated by the Spanish carrier. While this quadjet variant was retired in 2016, the use of the A340 continued with the larger A340-600. The first of 18 (EC-IQR) arrived in 2003, but all had been withdrawn in 2020, ahead of schedule, because of the pandemic. Like many airlines, Iberia’s long-haul fleet is now all about more efficient twins.

Iberia A340-600
Iberia received its first A340-600 (as shown here) in 2013. Photo: Iberia.

Iberia’s widebody fleet development

Iberia’s widebody fleet has changed slowly but clearly since 2004, as shown in the following figure. Back then, it was very much about the A340-300, which had around six in ten widebody seats. Analyzing OAG schedules shows that Iberia was the world’s fifth-largest user of the A340-300 in 2004, behind only Lufthansa, Air France, Gulf Air, and Cathay Pacific.

It was when the B747-200 (!), B747-300, and B747-400 were still used. Two B747-400s were leased from Air Atlanta Icelandic for two years until July 2006, Planespotters.net indicates. They were mainly deployed on the 4,644-mile run from Madrid to Havana, along with Madrid to Tenerife North, Santo Domingo, and Gran Canaria.

Iberia's widebody fleet development
Iberia’s widebody fleet is now fully twin-engine. Source of data: OAG.

The A340-600 had almost 4 in 10 seats in 2019

As more A340-600s were delivered, Iberia’s B747s were removed. It’d be seven years before the first A330-300s arrived (EC-LUB and EC-LUK), with the type essentially to replace the A340-300.

By 2019, the A340-600 – then Iberia’s sole-remaining four-engine aircraft – had a 37% share of widebody seats. Use would have slowly declined until 2025, with 10 aircraft expected in 2020, five in 2022, and all removed by 2025. But that timeframe wasn’t to be.

Iberia A340-600
In Europe, London Heathrow saw the A340-600 more frequently than any other airport (except Madrid, obviously!), primarily because of cargo to feed Latin American routes. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying.

Iberia bets on twins for the future

All of Iberia’s A340-600s were retired in mid-2020, five years earlier than expected. Numerous airlines worldwide withdrew older, larger, and/or less fuel-efficient aircraft sooner than expected in the wake of the pandemic. American Airlines, for example, withdrew multiple types.

Like other operators, Iberia is betting its widebody future on smaller and more cost-efficient twins. This is because a good chunk of an aircraft’s overall acquisition cost comes from the powerplants, so halving the number obviously makes a meaningful difference. Twins are also normally lighter than quads for around the same payload, meaning lower navigation charges, landing charges, fuel burn, and carbon charges. It just makes sense, economically speaking.

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Iberia’s widebody fleet now consists of 35 aircraft, ch-aviation.com shows, including those operated on an aircraft, crew, maintenance, and insurance (ACMI) basis for LEVEL: 18 A330-200s, eight A330-300s, and nine A350-900s.

Iberia Airbus A350-941 EC-NDR
The A350-900 will play a crucial role in Iberia’s future. This example, EC-NDR, arrived in May 2019. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying.

A look back at the A340

Iberia’s A340s were utterly vital in its long-haul development, with the first example delivered 25 years ago. With an average sector length of 4,401 miles, the A340-300 was used to 55 destinations from Madrid between 2004 and 2016.

Sao Paulo Guarulhos, Quito, Guayaquil, Mexico City, New York JFK, Gran Canaria, Santo Domingo, Tenerife North, Rio de Janeiro, and Chicago saw the -300 the most by total seats.

Iberia A340-300
Other destinations to see the A340-300 include Cordoba (Argentina), Fortaleza, Johannesburg, Luanda, Miami, and Recife. Photo: Bernal Saborio via Flickr.

The A340-600, meanwhile, was used to 57 airports in the same period, with Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Lima, JFK, Bogota, Santiago (Chile), Sao Paulo, San Jose (Costa Rico), Quito, and Caracas the top-10 destinations from Spain’s capital.

The variant’s average sector length was 5,096 miles, with various other destinations also briefly seeing it, including Tokyo Narita, Shanghai Pudong, Tel Aviv, Stockholm, and Bari.

What are your memories or experiences of Iberia’s A340s? Let us know in the comments.

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