How An Iranian Airline Became The A340’s Second Largest Operator

The A340 took its first flight 30 years ago, although it has never really been a popular aircraft. It had less than 4% of all widebody capacity in the past decade, with Lufthansa – the launch customer in 1993 – still firmly the number-one operator of the aircraft. But the A340 is becoming more niche and it is almost the end of another era.

Mahan A340
How did Mahan Air end up being the world’s second-largest A340 operator? Photo: Nabil Molinari via Flickr

Some 98 passenger airlines used the A340 in the past decade, whether on regularly scheduled services or short-term or one-off substitutions. All four versions (the -200, -300, -500, and -600) were used, although it was really all about the -300 and the -600.

If 2011 to 2021 is combined, the A340 had 304 million scheduled seats in all, analyzing OAG data reveals, of which the -300 had 176 million or nearly six in ten (58%). This was followed by the -600 with 104 million (34%), the -500 with 23 million (8%), and the -200 with less than one million (less than 1%).

The A340 hasn’t really been a popular aircraft, with less than 4% of the 8.3 billion widebody seats in the past decade. And with multiple retirements in favor of more cost-effective twins, including at SAS, Iberia and, Virgin Atlantic, even fewer A340 seats are scheduled this year than in 2020. It is almost the end of another era.

A340 development
The A340 has been all about the -300 and -600. Source: OAG Schedules Analyzer

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Top-15 A340 airlines

In the past decade, Lufthansa was by far the largest A340 user, as shown below, thanks to operating both the -300 and the -600:

  1. Lufthansa: 56.5 million two-way seats
  2. Iberia: 35.7 million
  3. South African: 21.6 million
  4. Virgin Atlantic: 18 million
  5. Emirates: 14.5 million
  6. Air France: 14.4 million
  7. Swiss: 12.7 million
  8. Cathay Pacific: 11.3 million
  9. Etihad: 11 million
  10. Air Mauritius: 9.3 million
  11. Qatar Airways: 9.1 million
  12. SAS: 8.9 million
  13. China Airlines: 7.6 million
  14. SriLankan: 6.9 million
  15. Turkish Airlines: 6.9 million
South African A340-600
The A340 played an important role in South African Airways’ fleet, including from Johannesburg to Cape Town, but obviously mainly long-haul. Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Munich, New York JFK, and Perth were the top international airports for the A340 in the past decade. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying.

Very few of the main operators left

Of the top-15 airlines, very few still use the A340, with Lufthansa remaining number-one despite retiring its -600s. It is still top because it is still using the -300.

The A340 has effectively become a niche aircraft, with Mahan Air now the world’s second-largest user, followed by Edelweiss, Swiss, Kam Air (from Afghanistan), Plus Ultra, and Air Belgium. Kam Air mainly uses its A340-300s from Kabul to Delhi and, less often, to Istanbul. It also uses the B737-500 (!) and B767-300ER to Istanbul, some 2,237 miles away.

Air Belgium A340
Air Belgium’s A340s are mainly used from Brussels Charleroi to Fort-de-France and onwards to Curaçao, and from Charleroi to Pointe-à-Pitre. Photo: Koenn07 via Wikimedia.

Lufthansa’s big use of the A340-300

In 2021, Lufthansa’s A340-300s will operate exclusively from Frankfurt, the airline’s biggest hub.  There’s an emphasis on leisure, thinner, or otherwise lower-yielding routes, or those with less non-stop competition. Bogota, Tehran, Bangkok, Cancun, and Cape Town are its top-five A340 routes.

Lufthansa A340 routes
Lufthansa’s top-15 A340-300-operated routes from Frankfurt in 2021. Image: GCMap.

Edelweiss to use the type on 22 routes

Edelweiss is now the world’s third-largest A340 user, up from eighth in pre-pandemic 2019, OAG data indicates. The carrier introduced the A340 in 2016, with the aircraft previously used by Swiss. Its first year used the twin-aisle type on seven routes, including from Zurich to Antalya, Fuerteventura, Heraklion, and Larnaca, although mainly to Cape Town, Phuket, and Palma.

Edelweiss A340
Edelweiss is now the world’s third-largest user of the A340. Photo: Anna Zvereva via Wikimedia.

In 2021, Edelweiss’ A340 route map comprises 22 destinations from Zurich, down by only one over 2019. Gone are intra-Europe services, with the shortest scheduled route now being the 1,955-mile trip to Hurghada, operating up to twice-weekly in April and May. At 7,020 miles, Zurich to Buenos Aires is by far the longest route – and the longest remaining route for all A340 operators.

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