Airlines continually plan the acquisition of newer aircraft and the retirement of older models. With fuel costs as a major factor in determining the profitability of specific planes, we’ve seen more and more airlines retire some, if not all, of their older aircraft. It’s been sad to see so many Beoing 747s retired after decades of flying.

Mot airlines operate on a gradual schedule of phasing out old airplanes while simultaneously acquiring new, more fuel efficient ones. But with the coronavirus pandemic and government response to its outbreak causing an unprecedented drop in air travel demand, many airlines are retiring old airplanes early. One of these is the Airbus A340.

Airlines Still Flying the Airbus A340

It’s no secret that the Airbus A340 was never a hot seller. Like Airbus’ other wide-body aircraft, none sold as well as comparable Boeing models up until the A350. The quad-engine A340 simply didn’t carry enough passengers to compete well with the Boeing 747 and burned a whole lot more fuel than the more similar twin-engine 777. Only 377 were ever delivered. A350 deliveries will soon exceed this, especially with ~600 orders still on the books.

Still, a number of airlines bought the planes. The two that always come to the forefront of my mind are Lufthansa and Iberia. Both of these airlines have continued to operate the Airbus A340 on a number of routes. I’ve previously looked at booking flights on these carrier’s A340-600s. They’re older planes, and less fuel efficient than the newer A350, which is actively replacing them.

Retirement of these aircraft was always in the cards, but I thought I’d have at least a couple more years to plan a flight aboard one. That chance may now be lost.

A Lufthansa A340 captured from the SFO SkyTerrace

The Pandemic Is Forcing Early Aircraft Retirement

Now that airlines are parking untold numbers of aircraft due to the sharp drop in air travel demand, we may never see some of these older aircraft take to the skies again. Airlines are retiring many quad-engine aircraft, along with older twin engine aircraft such as the Boeing 757 and 767.

Iberia had plans to retire all their A340-600s by 2022. Now we may see their A340-600s disappear much sooner. Lufthansa is also retiring a number of aircraft, effective immediately. Among these are nearly half of their Airbus A340s. The German carrier doesn’t expect demand to recover for years, so we may see the other disappear sooner than planned as well. It was likely that they would be operating the A340 for several more years as newer A350s and 787s trickle into the fleet. Now Lufthansa may be able to ditch the model entirely sooner rather than later.

Virgin Atlantic, another operator of the A340, said goodbye to their last one in March. This only came two months earlier than planned, however, so it is less of a shock. Finally, we may see perennially-distressed South African Airways ditch the plane. They’d planned to retire them by next year anyway.

Conclusion

I’m saddened that I may never be able to fly on an A340. I’d hoped to do so within the next year, even if I needed to plan a specific short trip around it. The beauty of miles and points is being able to do crazy things like this. I’m hoping that at least one carrier will still be operating the aircraft once the crisis is past.

Have you ever missed out on flying a specific carrier or aircraft?