When I was a child, if my family was travelling I would always feel re-assured when I saw a McDonald’s sign. For some reason the brand was comforting and, for me, served as a strong link to ‘home’. In the same way aircraft are the same. Like McDonald’s it didn’t matter what country you saw an aircraft, or the livery it was painted in, the shape is the element that is instantly recognised. Concorde, the Boeing 747 and (although I hate to admit it) the A340 as well are examples of this type of idea.
The A340 is a shape that is instantly recognised. It’s a big, single decker, with four engines (or hairdryers in the case of the A340-300). An extra long cigar, with four hair dryers, that flops around the sky.
Not unexpectedly Airbus have ceased production of their series of A340 aircraft. Whilst these aircraft have offered exceptional range they haven’t always proven the most profitable for either Airbus or the Airlines using them. In fact the A330 is has proved to be a much more successful prospect and is quite capable of almost matching the A340 capabilities but with two engines instead (a major advantage).
I have long felt that the A340 was timed just a little premature. The early 200 and 300 series of the A340 had those ‘hairdryer’ CFM56-5C (31-34,000lb Thrust) engines mainly because of the regulations at the time. Shortly after the release of the Airbus A340, relaxed regulations allowed competitor Boeing to release the Boeing 777 with its two engine design, with an unfathomable thrust rating, and a fare carrying capability more that 30% greater than the A340-200. Two engines meant more economy and the choice was simple although the 777-200 was fairly limited in range to about 5240 nm compared with the A340-200 which allowed for 8,000nm.
Boeing knew this and released it’s 777-200 ER and LR versions later which increased the range to 7,725nm and 9,340nm respectively. The A340, being only able to offer significantly less range and passenger carrying capability was essentially doomed and Airbus knew it, instead choosing to focus on the A330 for the future. The A330 has since become the most successful long haul jet that Airbus has ever produced. The A340-600 made a valiant attempt to save the A340 but it was simply out classed by the 777.
It is unclear whether any one player will dominate the aircraft market on a global scale. There is a significant choice and no shortage of airline manufacturers who all have products to fill niche markets. In the meantime if you look up and happen to see an oversized cigar flying around a sky near you, then it’s probably worth a second glance as it may well be an increasingly rare opportunity.