Airbus ends production of the A340

ABOVE: Airbus A340 variants which have operated (and in most cases still operate) regular scheduled services to and from Perth:

  • Air Mauritius A340-300X
  • Cathay Pacific A340-300X
  • Emirates A340-300 & A340-500
  • South African Airways A340-200, A340-300X & A340-600

Photos © David Eyre

10 November 2011: Airbus has announced that it is terminating  production of the A340, with a total production run of 379 aircraft.

All ordered A340-200s and 300s have been delivered, bring the production total for the A340-200/-300 to 246 aircraft. Four A340-500/600 aircraft are built and awaiting delivery, bringing total production for the -500/600 to 133 aircraft.

All four A340 versions have operated regular airline services to Perth, and the type still regularly flies here.

The A340 can trace its history back to design studies for derivatives of the Airbus A300 in the 1970s.

One of these designs was the A300B11, later designated TA11 (Twin Aisle 11) with a range of 11,000km and capacity of  180-200 passengers, to act as a replacement for  Boeing 707s and Douglas DC-8s then in service. Another design, the A300B9 (later TA9) was developed to become the twin-engined A330, a larger derivative of the A300.  To reduce development costs and enhance commonality, the two designs used the same wing and airframe.

Part of the reason for developing both a twin-engine and a four-engine design was that Asian airlines wanted four engines, whilst North American airlines wanted two engines, and European airlines liked both four and  two engines. At the time, ETOPS (extend-range twin-engine operations) did not exist, so a four-engine jet was preferred for longer routes, even though it was more costly to operate in some circumstances.

For a time, Airbus even discussed teaming up with McDonnell Douglas  to develop an aircraft called the  AM-300, which used  the fuselage of the MD-11 with the wing of the A330, but this came to nothing when McDonnell Douglas decided to continue pursuing three-engined designs.

The A340 was originally intended to be powered by  the  IAE V2500 Superfan, a geared turbofan with much lower fuel burn, but IAE was concerned about the risks of this new technology and chose not to proceed. Pratt and Whitney later proceeded with the Geared Turbofan, and a number of proposed new aircraft types will use this engine. With no Superfan available, Airbus chose the CFM56 engine.

Airbus  launched the A340  programme in 1987, and the first A340 was flown in 1991, with the first delivery occurring  in 1993. The initial versions were the long range A340-200 and stretched but shorter range A340-300.

Airlines wanted to replace early model 747s during the 1990s, so Airbus proposed an A340-400X, a stretched A340 which still used CFM56 engines and had less range (10,000km). Airlines showed little interest as the CFM56 had little growth potential.

In 1996, the long-range A340-500 and lesser range, stretched -600 models were offered, using   a larger wing and engines than the earlier A340-200/300. Airbus chose the Rolls Royce Trent engine to power the new variant, after negotiations with Pratt and Whitney fell through. The A340-500 first flew in  2002, and can  fly 313 passengers over 16,000 km. The A340-500 is able to fly  non-stop from London to Perth (but headwinds on the return flight require a fuel stop). The A340-500 was the longest-range airliner in the world from 2002 to 2006, when Boeing countered it with the 777-200LR, and Emirates has operated both of these types to Perth. Singapore Airlines uses this type in 181-passenger layout on the 18.5 hours, 15 344km route from Singapore to Newark, USA – the world’s longest scheduled non-stop commercial airline service.

The A340 did not receive as many orders as anticipated – partly because the performance of the A330 twin was improved to the point that it took sales away from the A340, but also because Boeing improved the GE90-powered Boeing 777 to create the Boeing 777-300ER and -200LR, taking sales away from the A340-500/600. Orders slowed significantly from 2000 onwards, and no orders have been received recently.

David Eyre

President, Aviation Association of WA Inc

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