In March 2020, and what a month that was, Virgin Atlantic confirmed the retirement of its final Airbus A340s. On March 24th, the last of the airline’s A340-600s flew to storage. This marked the end of a twenty-year relationship between the carrier and its workhorse quadjet. But what has happened to Sleeping Beauty Rejuvenated, China Girl, and all the rest since leaving the airline’s fleet?
First of all, let’s be clear that while the pandemic and its repercussions have accelerated aircraft retirements across the globe, Virgin Atlantic was always planning to withdraw its A340s early this year as part of a fleet modernization plan. Most of Virgin Atlantic’s A340s have by now been scrapped. So what has happened to the final three planes that the airline retired in the fateful spring of 2020?
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The final three ladies
G-VNAP, or, more poetically, Sleeping Beauty Rejuvenated (the latter part came about after the airline retrieved her from nearly three years of storage in Lourdes, France), was withdrawn from use in February.
After a couple of short stints in storage, first at Glasgow Prestwick and then in slightly more southern climes in Bournemouth, it went to European Aviation. From April to October 2020, the aircraft was painted in a special “Thank you NHS” livery and carried tonnes of medical supplies.
The other two A340-600s, which left the Virgin Atlantic fleet in March this year, were also taken by European Aviation. G-VWIN, or Lady Luck, also carried PPE painted in a special appreciation livery between May and September, which read “Protect our NHS.”
All three final Virgin Atlantic A340s, including G-VFIT, or Dancing Queen, which also left in March, have been reconfigured by their new owner for cargo. With the new increase in cargo-demand forecasted to continue, it looks as if at least these three ladies will remain in the sky for a little while longer.
Was browsing @flightradar24 and saw that a European Cargo A340-600, formally flown by Virgin Atlantic, was 10 minutes out from JFK.
Dropped everything and ran out to get a shot. Haven't done that in years. #AvGeek pic.twitter.com/l6ZNC3qmDd
— Jason Rabinowitz (@AirlineFlyer) November 26, 2020
The earlier exits
Over the years, Virgin Atlantic operated no less than 29 Airbus A340 widebodies. Ten of these were A340-300s. The very first, G-VBUS or Lady in Red, arrived brand new from the manufacturer’s facilities in Toulouse in November 1993. It remained with the airline for 12 years before heading south to fly for Virgin Nigeria. In 2007, it went to now-defunct Spanish carrier Air Comet and was later scrapped.
The first A340-300 to leave Virgin Atlantic’s fleet was G-VSKY or China Girl. In January 2004, after exactly ten years with the carrier, she went to fly for BWIA West Indies Airways, the former national airline of Trinidad and Tobago. When the airline failed in 2006, the jet went to Caribbean Airlines, until it was taken apart in 2009.
G-VSUN, initially First Lady and later renamed Rainbow Lady after a brief stint flying for Virgin Nigeria, was the last A340-300 to leave Virgin Atlantic’s fleet. It exited in 2015 and went straight to storage, only to be scrapped a little while later.
Madame Butterfly lives on in Iran
Nineteen were of the stretched A340-600 variety. The very first, G-VSHY, joined the Virgin Atlantic fleet straight from Airbus in July 2002. It was given the name Madame Butterfly and was also the first A340-600 to leave the fleet.
She went to Hi Fly in 2013 to transfer to Iraqi carrier Al-Naser Airlines a year later. Five years ago, the plane joined the fleet of Iran’s Mahan Airlines, where it remains until this day. Albeit, currently listed as stored.
Did you fly on Virgin Atlantic’s A340s? Tell us your experience in the comments.