The Airbus A340 aircraft is a wide body four-engined jet airliner that was manufactured by Airbus Industrie. The first A340 flew in 1991 and 20 years later Airbus having filled all orders announced it would no longer be producing the type.
The A340 is a low wing monoplane design and was slightly reminiscent of the Boeing 707 and Douglas DC8 with two engines on each wing and without the bubble on top like the Boeing 747. There are three variants of the A340; the A340 200 and A340 300 which were shorter and then A340 500 and A340 600 which are longer. In fact, the A340 600 was the world’s longest airliner until the introduction of the Boeing 777 200LR. Airbus showing pride in this aircraft painted on the fuselage of each one:
LONGER – FARTHER – LARGER – FASTER – HIGHER – QUIETER – SMOOTHER”
The A340 was Airbus’ first real long range aircraft. It was put up as a contender for those airlines who were looking to replace their ageing Boeing 747 100 and 747 200 fleets. The A340 was developed alongside the Airbus A330 which is a twin-engined jet airliner. The same wing, fuselage sections and systems were employed for both aircraft which Airbus estimated it saved around US$500 million in development costs. As with all airbus aircraft the cockpit designs are the same across all their aircraft which is cost saving for Airbus customers as they can move flight crew between types with only a weeks training.
So why did Airbus make two very similar aircraft?
So why did Airbus make two very similar aircraft? In the late 80s when the program was announced, the ability or should I say the dependability of jet engines to not breakdown was reaching higher standards. As yet, however, many twin engined airliners were still going through stringent ETOPS (Extended-range Twin-engine Operational Performance Standards) approval processes, so there was a reluctance by carriers with long over water routes to commit to large twin-engined airliners for these routes. The Airbus A340, was of course, immune to these limitations as was the Boeing 747, Douglas DC10 and the Lockheed L1011. There was also a division of preference in the market place, with Asian carriers preferring 4 engines, US carriers preferring 2 engines and European carriers split between the two.
Some of the longest scheduled non-stop sectors were operated by the A340.
Some of the longest scheduled non-stop sectors were operated by the A340. Singapore Airlines in February of 2004 operated an A340 500 from Singapore to Los Angeles. In 2007 they went a step further and operated an A340 500 from Singapore to Newark (New Jersey) as SQ21, a distance of 15,344 km (8,285 nmi). This was the longest scheduled flight in the world.
In 2008, the doubling of oil prices forced airlines to reconsider some of these extra long routes. The long flight sectors required heavy fuel loads which of course were made even worse by the amount of fuel required to lift and maintain flight with the extra fuel loads. Airlines started to reduce the sector lengths to try and economise on fuel spending. Some even started to sell off their A340s.
The time of the large twin-jets was now at hand. Given, a large engine on something like a Boeing 777 is less economical than one of the A340 engines but as there are only two it makes the twin more viable. Less engines to maintain and have spares for as well was a factor. So with all 375 orders filled the A340 was discontinued on 11 November 2011.
The Airbus A340 is succeeded by the Airbus A350 XWB family of aircraft.
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