Airbus A340 History

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A340 History

Designed in the 1970s, the Airbus A300 was Airbus’ lead into the airliner manufacturing industry.  This industry was at that time controlled mainly by American giants Boeing and Douglas.  To break that stranglehold Airbus envisaged a family of airliners that would cover every sector of the industry, capacity wise and also route length wise.  To this end, they used the A300 and number coded the various models as A300B1 through A300B9.  Whilst they went ahead and produced the single-aisle A320 first, they then turned their attention back to  a longer haul twin-aisle version.  The market was ready for a replacement for the ageing Boeing 707 and Douglas DC8 aircraft.

The A300B9 was developed slowly and was to be a replacement for the Douglas DC10 and Lockheed L1011 tri-jets.  It was to be a stretch of the A300 and would be more economical than the older jets.  An A300B11 was then added to the plan to go up against the Douglas DC8 and Boeing 707.  Both the A300B9 and A300B11 were to be twin-aisle aircraft and the designators were changed to TA(twin aisle)9 and TA11.  The initial specifications for these two types were released by Airbus in 1982.  

Airbus A340 313 of Air Tahiti Nui

Airbus A340 313 of Air Tahiti Nui.

At one point Airbus and McDonnell Douglas held discussions investigating a joint venture aircraft dubbed the AM300.  This fell apart as McDonnell Douglas insisted on a tri-jet configuration, something that Airbus could not agree to.

The TA9 and TA11 designators were originally reversed but it made sense that the four-engined version should carry the designator with a 4 in it, so the A340 four-engined airliner came into being.  The TA9 and TA11 become the A330 and A340 program which was officially announced by Airbus in Munich on 27 January 1986, when they called for interest for a launch customer. In May of that year, they sent sales proposals to 5 major airlines for both types.

Whilst general specifications had been decided upon, specific design fine tuning was still ongoing, some of those ideas were feasible while others were not.  For example; Airbus looked into a variable shaped wing that would change to an optimum camber shape dependent on the phase of flight the aircraft was in.  This would have produced a 2% improvement in fuel economy but was dropped as it was too hard to develop.

The A330 / A340 program was officially launched just prior to the 1987 Paris Airshow by the end of which they received 89 orders for the A340.

The first flight of the A340 was on 21 October 1991 and was done by the initial variant the A340 300.  Six aircraft then began a 2,000-hour rigorous test program which culminated in certification for the type given by the J.A.A. (Joint Aviation Authority – Europe) in 22 December 1992 and the F.A.A. (Federal Aviation Authority – U.S.A.) on 27 May 1993.

At the Paris airshow of 1993, Airbus pulled off a show case stunt with an A340 200 called World Ranger.  With extra fuel tanks and 22 people on board the aircraft lifted off just before lunch at 11:58 on 16 June 1993 and flew non-stop to Auckland, New Zealand, where it refueled and flew straight back to Paris where it arrived in time for lunch to days later with a flying time of 48 hours and 22 minutes.  The flight broke 6 world records, including the longest non-stop flight by an airliner at 19,277 km (10,409 nm).  This record stood for 12 years until broken by a Boeing 777 200LR in November 2005 for a Hong Kong to London flight of 21,602 km (11,664 nm).

Below is a time line of events taking us through the life cycle of the A340.

History Time Line for the Airbus A340

Date Milestone
1982 TA9 and TA11 (Twin Aisle) specifications released for the first time.
June 1985 Airbus had modified the design to incorporate the fly-by-wire concept of the A320 to the A340 design.  A side-stick control instead of central control column would be used.
27 January 1986 In Munich, Airbus announced the re-designation of the TA11 to become the A340 and asked for interest from airlines in becoming a launch customer.
12 May 1986 Airbus sent out sales proposals to Lufthansa, Swissair and 3 other airlines.
05 June 1987 The A340 and A330 program are officially launched by Airbus.
02 August 1991 Singapore Airlines cancels a 20 aircraft MD-11 order due to disappointing performance and orders 20 A340 300s.
21 October 1991 Maiden flight of the A340 300.
22 December 1992 J.A.A. (Joint Aviation Authority – Europe) certification received.




BWIA (British West Indian Airlines A340 300 on approach to land.

BWIA (British West Indian Airlines) A340 300 on approach to land.

History Time Line for the Airbus A340 (continued)
Date Milestone
27 May 1993 F.A.A. (Federal Aviation Authority – U.S.A.) certification received.
02 February 1993 Lufthansa receives their first A340 200, named Nürnberg she had 228 seats.
26 February 1993 Air France take delivery of their first of 9 A340 300s.  This aircraft was Airbus’ 1000th aircraft delivered.
15 March 1993 Lufthansas’ A340 Nürnberg commenced service on the Frankfurt to New York route.
16 June 1993 A340 200 World Ranger makes her show case flight from the Paris Airshow to Auckland, New Zealand and return in 48 hours and 22 minutes, breaking 6 world records including the longest non-stop flight by an airliner which stood for 12 years.
August 1997 Virgin Atlantic announces they will be the launch customer for the A340 600
23 April 2001 Maiden flight of the A340 600
11 February 2002 Maiden flight of the A340 500
July 2002 Virgin Atlantic take delivery of their first A340 600 named “Claudia Nine” by Claudia Shiffer at the Farnborough Airshow.  
A Thai International Airbus A340 541 at Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport.

A Thai International Airbus A340 541 at Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport.

History Time Line for the Airbus A340 (continued)
Date Milestone
3 December 2002 The A340 500 receives European certification.
November 2003 The A340 500 enters service with Emirates who were the default launch customer after Air Canada the original launch customer filed for bankruptcy. 
February 2004 Singapore commences the longest non-stop commercial flight route with an A340 500. Singapore to Los Angeles.
28 June 2004 Singapore Airlines extends flight SQ21 as a non-stop flight from Singapore to Newark NJ with the A340 500, a distance of 15,343 km (9,534 nm ).
01 July 2008 Thai International Airlines discontinued their 17 hour non-stop services from Bangkok to Los Angeles and sold their 4 A340 500s.  The doubling of jet fuel prices was the reason given.
August 2008 Cathay Pacific terminated their non-stop trans-Pacific routes and redeploy their A340 500s to shorter routes.
10 November 2011 Airbus announced that the A340 program had ended.  All orders had been filled and 377 aircraft had been delivered.  The acceptance of large twin-engined aircraft on long over water routes had spelt the end of this once popular 4 engined airliner.

If there is more you want to learn about this airliner, please visit: A340 HomeA340 Specs, A340 Order Book and A340 Assembly.
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