When Airbus designed the Airbus A300 during the 1970s it envisioned a broad family of airliners to compete against Boeing and McDonnell Douglas, two established US aerospace manufacturers. From the moment of formation, Airbus had begun studies into derivatives of the Airbus A300B in support of this long-term goal. Prior to the service introduction of the first Airbus airliners, Airbus had identified nine possible variations of the A300 known as A300B1 to B9. A 10th variation, conceived in 1973, later the first to be constructed, was designated the A300B10. It was a smaller aircraft that would be developed into the long-range Airbus A310. Airbus then focused its efforts on the single-aisle market, which resulted in the Airbus A320 family, which was the first digital fly-by-wire commercial aircraft. The decision to work on the A320, instead of a four-engine aircraft proposed by the Germans, created divisions within Airbus. As the SA or "single aisle" studies (which later became the successful Airbus A320) underwent development to challenge the successful Boeing 737 and Douglas DC-9 in the single-aisle, narrow-body airliner market, Airbus turned its focus back to the wide-body aircraft market.
The A300B11, a derivative of the A310, was designed upon the availability of "ten ton" engines. It would seat between 180 and 200 passengers, and have a range of 6,000 nautical miles (11,000 km). It was deemed the replacement for the less-efficient Boeing 707s and Douglas DC-8s still in service. The A300B11 was joined by another design, the A300B9, which was a larger derivative of the A300. The B9 was developed by Airbus from the early 1970s at a slow pace until the early 1980s. It was essentially a stretched A300 with the same wing, coupled with the most powerful turbofan engine at the time. It was targeted at the growing demand for high-capacity, medium-range, transcontinental trunk routes. The B9 would offer the same range and payload as the McDonnell Douglas DC-10, but would use between 25% to 38% less fuel. The B9 was therefore considered the replacement for the DC-10 and the Lockheed L-1011 Tristar.
To differentiate the programme from the SA studies, the B9 and B11 were redesignated the TA9 and TA11 (TA standing for "twin aisle"), respectively. In an effort to save development costs, it was decided that the two would share the same wing and airframe; the projected savings were estimated at US$500 million (about £490 million or €495 million). The adoption of a common wing structure also had one technical advantage: the TA11's outboard engines could counteract the weight of the longer-range model by providing bending relief. Another factor was the split preference of those within Airbus and, more importantly, prospective airliner customers. Airbus vice president for strategic planning, Adam Brown, recalled,
North American operators were clearly in favour of a twin[jet], while Asians wanted a quad[jet]. In Europe, opinion was split between the two. The majority of potential customers were in favour of a quad despite the fact, in certain conditions, it is more costly to operate than a twin. They liked that it could be ferried with one engine out, and could fly 'anywhere'— ETOPS (extend-range twin-engine operations) hadn't begun then.
The first specifications of the TA9 and TA11 were released in 1982. While the TA9 had a range of 3,300 nautical miles (6,100 km), the TA11 range was up to 6,830 nautical miles (12,650 km). At the same time, Airbus also sketched the TA12, a twin-engine derivative of the TA11, which was optimised for flights of a 2,000 nautical miles (3,700 km) lesser range. By the time of the Paris Air Show in June 1985, more refinements had been made to the TA9 and TA11, including the adoption of the A320 flight deck, fly-by-wire (FBW) flight control system and side-stick control. Adopting a common cockpit across the new Airbus series allowed operators to make significant cost savings; flight crews would be able to transition from one to another after one week of training. The TA11 and TA12 would use the front and rear fuselage sections of the A310. Components were modular and also interchangeable with other Airbus aircraft where possible to reduce production, maintenance and operating costs.
From the start, Airbus intended the A330/A340 to share a common flight deck with the A320. The cockpit
of a Lufthansa
A340-600 is shown
Airbus briefly considered a variable camber wing; the concept was that the wing could change its profile to produce the optimum shape for a given phase of flight. Studies were carried out by British Aerospace (BAe) at Hatfield and Bristol. Airbus estimated this would yield a 2% improvement in aerodynamic efficiency. However, the plan was later abandoned on grounds of cost and difficulty of development.
Airbus had held discussions with McDonnell Douglas to jointly produce the aircraft, which would have been designated as the AM 300. This aeroplane would have combined the wing of the A330 with the fuselage of the McDonnell Douglas MD-11. However, talks were terminated as McDonnell Douglas insisted on the continuation of its trijet heritage. Although from the start it was intended that the A340 would be powered by four CFM56-5 turbofan engines, each capable of 25,000 pounds-force (110 kN), Airbus had also considered developing the aircraft as a trijet due to the limited power of engines available at the time, namely the Rolls-Royce RB211-535 and Pratt & Whitney JT10D-232 (redesignated PW2000 in December 1980).
As refinements in the A340's design proceeded, a radical new engine option was offered by International Aero Engines, a group comprising Rolls-Royce, Pratt & Whitney, Japanese Aero Engines Corporation, Fiat and MTU Aero Engines (MTU). The engine nacelles of the superfan engine consisted of provisions to allow a large fan near the rear of the engine. As a result of the superfan cancellation by IAE, the CFM56-5C4 was used as the sole engine choice instead of there being an alternate option as originally envisioned. The longer-range versions, namely the A340-500 and -600, are powered by Rolls-Royce Trent 500 engines.
On 27 January 1986, the Airbus Industrie Supervisory Board held a meeting in Munich, West Germany, after which board-chairman Franz Josef Strauß released a statement, "Airbus Industrie is now in a position to finalise the detailed technical definition of the TA9, which is now officially designated the A330, and the TA11, now called the A340, with potential launch customer airlines, and to discuss with them the terms and conditions for launch commitments". The designations were originally reversed because the airlines believed it illogical for a two-engine jet airliner to have a "4" in its name, whilst a quad-jet would not. On 12 May 1986, Airbus dispatched fresh sale proposals to five prospective airlines including Lufthansa and Swissair.
Production and testing
In preparations for production of the A330/A340, Airbus's partners invested heavily in new facilities. Filton was the site of BAE's £7 million investment in a three-storey technical centre with an extra 15,000 square metres (160,000 sq ft) of floor area. BAe also spent £5 million expanding the Chester wing production plant by 14,000 m2 (150,000 sq ft) to accommodate a new production line. However, France saw the biggest changes with Aérospatiale starting construction of a new Fr.2.5 billion ($411 million) assembly plant, adjacent to Toulouse-Blagnac Airport, in Colomiers. By November 1988, the first 21 m (69 ft) pillars were erected for the new Clément Ader assembly hall. The assembly process, meanwhile, would feature increased automation with holes for the wing-fuselage mating process drilled by eight robots. The use of automation for this particular process saved Airbus 20% on labour costs and 5% on time.
British Aerospace accepted £450 million funding from the UK government, short of the £750 million originally requested. Funds from the French and German governments followed thereafter. Airbus also issued subcontracts to companies in Austria, Australia, Canada, China, Greece, Italy, India, Japan, South Korea, Portugal, the United States, and the former Yugoslavia. The A330 and A340 programmes were jointly launched on 5 June 1987, just prior to the Paris Air Show. The order book then stood at 130 aircraft from 10 customers, apart from the above-mentioned Lufthansa and International Lease Finance Corporation (ILFC). Eighty-nine of the total orders were A340 models. At McDonnell Douglas, ongoing tests of the MD-11 revealed a significant shortfall in the aircraft's performance. An important carrier, Singapore Airlines (SIA), required a fully laden aircraft that could fly from Singapore to Paris, against strong headwinds during mid-winter in the northern hemisphere. The MD-11, according to test results, would experience fuel starvation over the Balkans. Due to the less-than-expected performance figures, SIA cancelled its 20-aircraft MD-11 order on 2 August 1991, and ordered 20 A340-300s instead. Despite selling 200 units, some consider that the MD-11 failed commercially and that it unsuccessfully competed against the A340.
The first flight of the A340 occurred on 21 October 1991, marking the start of a 2,000-hour test flight programme involving six aircraft. From the start, engineers noticed that the wings were not strong enough to carry the outboard engines at cruising speed without warping and fluttering. To alleviate this, an underwing bulge called a plastron was developed to correct airflow problems around the engine pylons and to add stiffness. European JAA certification was obtained on 22 December 1992; FAA followed on 27 May 1993.
Entry into service and demonstration
The first A340, a -200, was delivered to Lufthansa on 2 February 1993 and entered service on 15 March. The 228-seat airliner was named Nürnberg. The first A340-300, the 1000th Airbus, was delivered to Air France on 26 February, the first of nine it planned to operate by the end of the year. Air France replaced the Boeing 747 with the A340 on Paris–Washington D.C., flying four times weekly. Lufthansa intended to replace aging DC-10s with the A340s on Frankfurt–New York services.
On 16 June 1993, an A340-200 dubbed the World Ranger flew from the Paris Air Show to Auckland, New Zealand in 21 hours 32 minutes and back in 21 hours 46 minutes after a five-hour stop; this was the first non-stop flight between Europe and New Zealand and the longest non-stop flight by an airliner at the time. The 19,277 km (10,409 nmi) flight from Paris to Auckland broke six world records with 22 persons and five center tanks.
 Taking off at 11:58 local time, it arrived back in Paris 48 hours and 22 minutes later, at 12:20. This record held until 1997 when a Boeing 777-200ER flew 20,044 km (10,823 nmi) from Seattle to Kuala Lumpur.
-500/600 larger variants
In 1991, the A340-400X was a simple 12-frame, 20 ft 10 in (6.35 m) -300 stretch from 295 to 335 passengers with the MTOW bumped from 553,360 to 588,600 lb (251 to 267 t) and the range decreased by 750 to 5,900 nmi (1,390 to 10,930 km).
CFM International was then set to develop for $1–1.5 billion a new engine between the 150 kN (34,000 lbf) CFM56 and the 315–400 kN (70–90,000 lbf) GE90.
In 1994, Airbus was studying a heavier A340 Advanced with a reinforced wing and 178 kN (40,000 lbf) engines: the
Pratt & Whitney advanced ducted propulsor,
CFM International CFMXX or
Rolls Royce RB.411, to allow from 1996 a -300 stretch for 50 more passengers over the same range, a -300 with the -200 range and a -200 with more range.
In 1995, the A340-400 was slated for 2000, seating 380 passengers with a 300 t (660,000 lb) take-off weight.
The A340-600 was the longest passenger airliner until the flight of the Boeing 747-8
In April 1996, GE Aviation obtained an exclusivity for the 13,000 km (7,000 nmi) 375-passenger -600 stretch with 226 kN (51,000 lbf) engines, above the 225.5 kN (50,700 lbf) limit of the CFM International partnership with SNECMA and dropping the 191 kN (43,000 lbf) CFMXX.
The -600 would be stretched by 20–22 frames to 75 m (246 ft), unit thrust was raised from 227 kN (51,000 lbf) to 249 kN (56,000 lbf) and maximum takeoff weight would be increased to 330 t (730,000 lb).
The wing area would increase by 56m² (600 ft²) to 420 m2 (4,500 sq ft) through a larger chord needing a three-frame centre fuselage insert and retaining the existing front and rear spars, and a span increased by 3.5 to 63.8 m (11 to 209 ft), along a 25% increase in wing fuel capacity and four wheels replacing the centre twin bogie.
A -500 with the larger wing and engines and three extra frames for 310 passengers would cover 15,725 km (8,490 nmi) to replace the smaller, 14,800 km (8,000 nmi) range, A340-8000.
At least $1 billion would be needed to develop the airframe, excluding $2 billion for the engine development supported by the its manufacturer.
A 12 frame -400 simple stretch would cover 11,290 km (6,100 nmi) with 340 passengers in three-class.
It was enlarged by 40% to compete with the then in-development 777-300ER/200LR: the wing would be expanded with a tapered wing box insert along the span extension, it would have enlarged horizontal stabilizers and the larger A330-200 fin and it would need 222–267 kN (50–60,000 lbf) of unit thrust.
The ultra-long-haul 1.53 m (5.0 ft) -500 stretch would seat 316 passengers, a little more than the -300, over 15,355 km (8,290 nmi), while the 10.07 m (33.0 ft) -600 stretch would offer a 25% larger cabin for 372 passengers over a range of 7,400 nmi (13,700 km).
MTOW was increased to 356 t (785,000 lb).
Unwilling to commit to a $1 Billion development without a good return on investment prospects and a second application, in 1997 GE Aviation stopped exclusivity talks for a scaled down GE90 to 245–290 kN (55–65,000 lbf), leaving Rolls-Royce Plc proposing a more cost-effective Rolls-Royce Trent variant needing less development and Pratt & Whitney: a PW2000 advanced ducted propulsor, a PW4000 derivative or a new geared turbofan.
In June 1997, the 250 kN (56,000 lbf) Trent 500 was selected, with growth potential to 275 kN (62,000 lbf), derived from the A330 Trent 700 and the B777 Trent 800 with a reduced fan diameter and a new LP turbine, for a 7.7% lower TSFC than the 700.
Airbus claims 10% lower operating costs per seat than the -300, 3% below those of the B777-3000ER.
The $2.9 billion program was launched in December 1997 with 100 commitments from seven customers worth $3 billion, aiming to fly the first -600 in January 2001 and deliver it from early 2002 to capture at least half of the 1,500 sales forecast in the category through 2010.
In 1998, the -600 stretch was stabilised at 20 frames for 10.6 m (35 ft), the MTOW rose to 365 t (805,000 lb) and the unit thrust to 52,000 to 60,000 lbf (230 to 270 kN), keeping the Trent 700 2.47 m (8.1 ft) fan diameter with its scaled IP and HP compressors and the high-speed, low-loading HP and IP turbines of the Trent 800.
A340 stretch concepts
||178 kN (40,000 lbf)
||267 kN (60,000 lbf)
||267 kN (60,000 lbf)
||12 frames (40 pax)
||20–22 frames, 10.07 m (33.0 ft)
||20 frames, 10.6 m (35 ft)
||5,900 nmi (10,900 km)
||same as -300
||7,400 nmi (13,700 km)
||13,900 km (7,500 nmi)
||267.0 t (588,600 lb)
||300 t (660,000 lb)
||356 t (785,000 lb)
||365 t (805,000 lb)
Despite the -500/600 introduction, sales slowed in the 2000s as the Boeing 777-200LR/-300ER dominated the long-range 300-400 seats market.
The A340-500IGW/600HGW high gross weight variants did not arouse much sales interest.
In January 2006, Airbus confirmed it studied an A340-600E (Enhanced), more fuel-efficient than earlier A340s, closing the 8–9% disparity with the Boeing 777 with new Trent 1500 engines and technologies from the A350 initial design.
End of production
In 2005, 155 B777s were ordered against 15 A340s: twin engine ETOPS restrictions were overcome by lower operating costs, compared to quad jets.
In 2007, Airbus predicted that another 127 A340 aircraft would likely be produced through 2016, the projected end of production.
On 10 November 2011, Airbus announced the end of the A340 program. At that time, the company indicated that all firm orders had been delivered. The decision to terminate the program came as A340-500/600 orders came to a halt, with analyst Nick Cunningham pointing out that the A340 "was too heavy and there was a big fuel burn gap between the A340 and Boeing’s 777". Bertrand Grabowski, managing director of aircraft financier DVB Bank SE, noted "in an environment where the fuel price is high, the A340 has had no chance to compete against similar twin engines, and the current lease rates and values of this aircraft reflect the deep resistance of any airlines to continue operating it”.
As a sales incentive amid low customer demand during the Great Recession, Airbus had offered buy-back guarantees to airlines that chose to procure the A340. By 2013, the resale value of an A340 declined by 30% over ten years, and both Airbus and Rolls-Royce were incurring related charges amounting to hundreds of millions of euros. Some analysts have expected the price of a flight-worthy, CFM56-powered A340 to drop below $10 million by 2023.
Airbus could offer used A340s to airlines wishing to retire older aircraft such as the Boeing 747-400, claiming that the cost of purchasing and maintaining a second-hand A340 with increased seating and improved engine performance reportedly compared favourably to the procurement costs of a new Boeing 777.
In 2013, as ultra-long range is a niche, the A340 was less attractive with best usage on long, thin routes, from hot-and-high airports or as interim air charter.
A 10 year old A340-300 had a base value of $35m and a market value of $24m, leading to $320,000/mo ($240,000-$350,000) lease rate, while a -500 is $425,000 and a -600 is leased $450,000 to $500,000 per month, versus $1.3m for a 777-300ER.
The lighter A340-300 consumes 5% less fuel per trip with 300 passengers than the 312 passengers 777-200ER while the heavier A340-600 uses 12% more fuel than a 777-300ER.
As an effort to support the A340's resale value, Airbus has proposed reconfiguring the aircraft's interior for a single class of 475 seats. As the Trent 500 engines are half the maintenance cost of the A340, Rolls-Royce proposed a cost-reducing maintenance plan similar to the company's existing program that reduced the cost of maintaining the RB211 engine powering Iberia's Boeing 757 freighters. Key to these programs is the salvaging, repair and reuse of serviceable parts from retired older engines.
Airbus has positioned the larger versions of the A350, specifically the A350-900 and A350-1000, as the successors to the A340-500 and A340-600.
The A340 is listed on the Airbus Corporate Jets website. Airbus can convert retired airliners to VIP transports.