There are 633 A340s in service today. The aircraft is no longer being built and its production life was short. The initial good idea of a lighter quad was eclipsed by the remarkable performance of the big fan engines, enabling the same range and payload to be delivered using a twin engine aircraft. The table below shows the four models of the A340 and the fleet age. On average, the fleet is under a decade old at this writing. While one might think Airbus might see the program as a failure – this is not the case because the same basic aircraft is sold very successfully as the A330, its production twin. Airbus has had a tremendous run on the A330 and is getting ready to build the neo version. The next table lists the relative seating capacity of the models and the number in service. Airbus was able to grow capacity by 43% from the -200 to the -600. But the heart of the market was the -300, and at its capacity it came into conflict with the 777-200. The twin’s economics were simply too good to ignore and airlines bought 510 compared to 398 A340-300s. Of the 510 777s, 83% were the -200ER variant with additional range. Boeing has also managed to sell 59 even longer range -200LRs which competed with the A340-500.The largest A340-600 competed with the 777-300ER, and the market spoke: 134 A340-600 sales vs. 816 (-300 plus -300ER). The numbers are crueler than they should be. The A340 was a good development project in that Airbus learned about building bigger aircraft and enabled the firm to ultimately develop the A380.
The A340 is a relatively young airplane, and Rolls Royce, which powers the -500 and -600 models with the Trent 500, has developed a new by the hour maintenance plan that provides “four for the price of two” maintenance costs when compared to the competing 777. The aircraft are technically sound, but risk economic obsolescence given higher fuel burn and engine maintenance costs than their twin-engine competitors. The maintenance cost concessions, combined with lower fuel prices, should help the newer models remain in production. Unfortunately the -500, an ultra-long range model with more limited capacity, is being retired by several airlines and has become a successful head of state airplane. The -600, with high capacity, remains competitive.
AirInsight is the boutique aerospace media and analysis team and part of AirInsight Group LLC.
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