As Europe's answer to the Boeing 747, and the current flagship of Airbus Industrie in their ongoing war with Boeing for domination over the heavy airliner market, the A340 is an amazing aircraft. It had a longer range than any other commerical airliner in production until the 2005 advent of the Boeing 777-200LR "Worldliner".


The A340 began its conceptual life in the early 1970's as the TA11, a four-engined variant of the Airbus A300. Once the Arab oil crisis began, company officials decided to shelve the project indefinitely, and it wasn't brought back to the table until the mid-1980's, when it was refined and turned into the A340.

Airbus's new centerpiece was launched in 1987 as a long-range complement to the short-range Airbus A320 and the medium-range A300. At the time, the newest long-range widebody, the twinjet Boeing 767, was at a disadvantage to aircraft such as the 747 because of the age-old ETOPS problem: two-engined aircraft have to stay within close range of emergency airfields in case one of their engines happens to die. The four-engined A340 design was an attempt to make a new-generation competitor for ETOPS-busting aircraft like the 747.

Airbus' engineers decided to design the A340 in parallel with the twin-engined Airbus A330: both aircraft share the same wing and similar fuselage structure, and borrow heavily from the advanced avionics developed for the A320.

The A340 first flew in 1991, and its crew noticed a potentially major design flaw in the first model: the wings weren't strong enough to carry the outboard engines at cruising speed without warping and fluttering. Engineers had to develop a neat little gadget called a plastron to fix airflow problems around the engine pylons. Thus fixed, the A340 began commercial service in 1993 with Lufthansa and Air France.

There were initially two models of A340: the A340-200 and A340-300. The 200 is shorter than the 300 and has a smaller capacity, but can fly farther than the 300, making it more popular among airlines flying ultra-long-range routes. In 1997, Airbus launched two lengthened variants of the A340, the 500 and 600 series. Both of these models entered airline service in 2002.


All models
Wingspan: 60.3 m
Wing sweep: 31.1 degrees
Cruising speed: Mach 0.86
Height: 17.3 m
Wheelbase: 32.9 m

And here are the numbers that make each A340 model special. I've thrown in Boeing 747-400 and 777-200LR numbers for reference, so you can see what Airbus is up against.

                      200    300    500    600   B747   B777
Length (m)           59.4   63.6   67.9   75.3   70.7   63.7
Seating (3-class)     239    295    313    380    416    301
Range (km)          14800  13350  16050  13900  13445  17446
Sticker price: $125 million, give or take.


A total of 218 A340's are in service. The largest A340 fleets in the world belong to Lufthansa (20), Singapore Airlines (15), Air France (15), Air Canada (12), Cathay Pacific Airways (11), and Virgin Atlantic (10). Egypt and Saudi Arabia have purchased the aircraft for government VIP use, and the Sultan of Brunei personally owns two!