This month, Iberia finally retired its last A340 four-engine plane, after 26 years in service. The model, an A340-600 registration EC-JLE, is the most capable of the model and was delivered by Airbus in 2005.
The Spanish airline has replaced the aircraft with the A350 twin-engine, which is more modern and economical, following a worldwide trend to withdraw service from four-engine jets. Despite this, some companies like Lufthansa, SAS and Swiss still keep the plane in service for now. However, it is certain that the A340 is becoming increasingly rare at airports, but is it possible to know how many A340s remain active in the world?
It is a difficult answer to obtain because many of these planes, even when deactivated, end up being stored in conditions to be put to flight in a short time. It is a kind of aeronautical coma in which an airplane remains “alive”, but which can never be awakened from “sleep” if no potential customer shows interest in it.
The coronavirus pandemic has made this scenario even more uncertain. Hundreds of commercial airplanes have been hastily removed from service due to low demand, especially long-haul aircraft such as the Boeing 747, A380 and A340 itself. Some of them may pursue their careers in air forces or as freighters, but the Airbus four-engine seems more destined for dismantling.
Although not a success, the A340 family, with four versions, had a total of 377 units produced. Of these, 228 were active in July, according to Airbus. There were 124 jets in the 200 and 300 series and 104 in the 500 and 600 series. The list included 15 recently retired Iberia aircraft.
Websites that track the air traffic of commercial aircraft, however, differ from Airbus data. FlightRadar24, which monitors flights using ADS-B equipment, targeted 276 active A340 jets, the vast majority of the 300 version (159 units).
As noted, it is quite difficult to quote an exact total since it is a constantly changing activity. It is certain, however, that sighting an A340 in the skies from now on must be something increasingly difficult.