The Airbus A340 was a gamechanging aircraft at the time of its launch, providing healthy competition to Boeing’s 747. Its four engines allowed it to fly long distances over water before ETOPS was a thing. As we head into 2021, this quadjet is becoming a rare sight.
Across the entire family, 375 aircraft were delivered to customers. The biggest selling member of the family was the A340-300, with 218 planes delivered. Next was the -600 with 97, while the -500 and -200 brought up the rear with 32 and 28 deliveries respectively.
While the widebody quadjet was a firm favorite with passengers and airlines alike, it couldn’t compete for efficiency with the modern twinjet options. Airbus ended production in 2011, as all firm orders were delivered and no new orders coming in.
Since then, numerous airlines have begun to retire the type. The events of 2020 have accelerated the disappearance of the A340 from our skies, making it something of a rare bird in today’s operations. But who flew the most over the history of the aircraft, and who still flies it now?
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The biggest operator of all time
The first A340 ever built went to German operator Lufthansa. It entered service on March 15th, 1993, to replace the airline’s aging DC-10s on Frankfurt to New York services. Evidently, the airline loved the aircraft, as it went on to become the world’s biggest operator of the type.
Over the years, Lufthansa has operated a total of 62 A340s, according to data at Planespotters.net. These included eight A340-200, 30 A340-300 and 24 A340-600. The first to arrive with the airline was D-AIBA in January 1993. This aircraft left the fleet in April 2003 and spent some time with South African Airways before being withdrawn from use in June 2011.
Other airlines, mainly European, similarly had a strong affinity for the A340. Iberia was the second-largest operator, flying a total of 39 A340s over the years. 21 of those were the A340-300 and 18 the A340-600. In fact, Iberia went into 2020 with a fleet of 15 A340-600, but sadly, over the course of the year, all were phased out.
Air France was the launch customer for the A340-300, which also happened to be Airbus’ 1,000th aircraft. It operated a total of 30 of the type, including eight A340-200s, but retired the last three in March 2020. Virgin Atlantic was another keen user, with a fleet of 29. Again, 2020 was the final nail in the coffin for this quadjet fleet.
The biggest operator today
As of January this year, the largest scheduled airline operator is Lufthansa. It retains 17 A340-300s, many of which are actively flying for the airline right now. The Airbus widebodies are frequently found scooting about between Germany and China, India, South Africa and South America.
However, Lufthansa’s fleet is going to be significantly smaller going forward, as its A340-600s are not expected to return to the skies. The airline sent its entire -600 fleet to a Spanish storage location back in April 2020, and confirmed last month that they probably won’t be coming back.
The only other major operator today is Iran’s Mahan Air, which still has a fleet of 12 under its ownership. The airline flies five A340-300 and seven A340-600, although half the aircraft are currently parked.
Maleth Aero, a cargo operator, has six A340s still flying. It is reportedly anticipating delivery of one more aircraft, a certain ex-Virgin Atlantic A340 previously registered as G-VFIT. SWISS also still has five A340-300s, while its compatriot Edelweiss Air has four. A handful are scattered elsewhere around the world, flying for airlines including Hi Fly, Air Belgium, Kam Air and Air Mauritius.