The Airbus A340 is a medium size four-engine widebody airliner intended for long-haul flights and seating 300-400 passengers. Airbus officially launched the project in June 1987, together with the twin-engine A330, which is - apart from the number of engines - an almost identical aircraft. The A330 and A340 share the same wing, the same cockpit (derived from the A320) and many systems. The A340 was built on the same final assembly line in Toulouse, France, as the A330.
The A340 was first designated 'A300B11' and later 'TA11' (Twin Aisle) as a future aircraft using the basic fuselage of the A300. The A300B9, later TA9, became the A330. The A340 was designed as a four-engine aircraft with in mind the unlimited ability to fly long over-water and desert sectors. Safety regulations in the 1980s demanded that twin-engine airliners stayed within 60 minutes (one engine off) flying time of a diversion airport. Such a rule didn't exist for three- and four-engine aircraft,
During the development process, Airbus considered to fit the A340 with International Aero Engines (IAE) superfans, engines with a very large diameter fan, a kind of propfan, but after IAE cancelled this engine, Airbus chose the CFM International CFM56-5C4 as power source.
Airbus initially introduced two main versions of the A340: the A340-200 and A340-300. The first, making its maiden flight on 25 October 1991, was the A340-300, which entered service with Lufthansa and Air France in March 1993. The A340-200, first flown on 1 April 1992, has a shorter fuselage but offers increased range. Airbus hardly sold the A340-200, however. Only 28 examples were built.
Sub-versions of the early A340 models are the A340-300X with higher weights, first delivered to Singapore Airlines in 1996, and the A340-300E (Enhanced), also with higher weights plus a more powerful version of the CFM56 and improved avionics. The A340-8000 is a variant of the A340-200 with extra fuel capacity and increased weights. Only one was built. It was ordered by the Sultan of Brunei but it was parked idle at Hamburg for many years. In early 2007 the aircraft was delivered to a Saudi Arabian VIP-aircraft operator.
In 1997 Airbus launched two new versions, the A340-500 and A340-600, with longer fuselages and Rolls-Royce Trent engines. The A340-500's first flight was on 11 February 2002 and the first user was Emirates Airline. At that time the A340-500 was the world's longest-range airliner until Boeing's introduction of the 777-200LR 'Worldliner'. The A340-500 has a 3.30 meter longer fuselage than the A340-300 and the A340-600 incorporates a stretch of more than 10 meter compared with the -300. The A340-600 is even longer than the Boeing 747-400 and it was the longest passenger airliner in the world until Boeing's 747-8 became operational. The A340-600 flew for the first time on 23 April 2001 and was introduced by Virgin Atlantic Airways in August 2002.
The A340 did not become Airbus's biggest sales success. 377 A340s were built: 28 A340-200s, 218 A340-300s, 34 A340-500s and 97 A340-600s. The reason for the disappointing sales is that airlines preferred more economical long-range twins like the Boeing 777 as soon as these were allowed to fly long over-water sectors thanks to improved engine reliability, up to 180 minutes flying time from the nearest diversion airport and later even more. In this way Airbus's own A330 competed with the A340. Increased fuel efficiency and more range enabled the A330-200 and -300 to do many of the jobs the A340-300 did.
In November 2011, twenty years after the first flight, Airbus announced the end of the production of the A340. The last two A340s built, A340-500s, were originally destined for the Indian carrier Kingfisher Airlines, but the financially struggling airline could not take delivery of them. Later, the aircraft entered service with the Kuwait Government. Airbus developed the twin-engine A350-900 and A350-1000 as replacements for the A340-500 and -600 and to compete more effectively with the Boeing 777.
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