Lufthansa still uses more than 30 A340 aircraft

Lufthansa still uses more than 30 A340 aircraft

After Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock (Greens) had to break off her trip to the Pacific due to breakdowns, the Bundeswehr is now phasing out the two Airbus A340 aircraft ahead of schedule. Although they should have been taken out of service in the foreseeable future anyway, the fact that the planned decommissioning is being brought forward raises doubts about the progressive nature of the flight readiness fleet. But is the use of the model really that unusual?

Production stopped in 2011

The first A340 flight took place in October 1991. But it was not an isolated aircraft program, Airbus said; so the model was launched at the same time as the A330 series. Both are largely identical in construction. The difference is the number of engines: while the A330s have two, the A340s have four.

So-called four-engine aircraft are usually classic long-haul aircraft. The additional landing gear in the middle of the fuselage is necessary to be able to absorb the weight of the fully loaded wide-bodied jets when landing. The model is available in several versions. For example, the super-long A340-600 can carry up to 297 passengers, while its older and smaller brother, the Airbus A340-300, can carry 283 passengers.

In 2011, the European aircraft manufacturer stopped production of the series. “We have accepted the reality,” said former Airbus finance director Hans Peter Ring at the time. At that point, no A340 had been sold for almost two years. The model is considered a thirsty aircraft, using about 18 percent more fuel compared to long-haul twin-engine jets.

Only 43 examples of the A340 series remain in service in Europe

According to Airbus, a total of 377 examples of the A340 models were delivered, the last two eleven years ago. 203 machines are currently still in operation. According to aeroTELEGRAPH, an online aviation magazine, however, numerous airlines have said goodbye to the A340 models or scrapped them long ago – especially in Europe. While smaller foreign airlines such as Iran’s Mahan Air and the VIP airline Qatar Amiri Flight still use them widely, there are only 43 passenger jets of this type left here.

According to aeroTELEGRAPH, they are also spread across just seven European airlines. By far the largest operator is the Lufthansa Group. 34 A340 aircraft are part of the current fleet, says the Lufthansa Group, which also includes SWISS, Austrian Airlines and Brussels Airlines belong, with. These are 17 machines from the long A340-600 series and 17 from the old A340-300 series that Baerbock was using.

According to industry circles, Lufthansa is the only major airline with examples of A340. However, these ran largely without breakdowns. In any case, aircraft are prone to failure not just because of their age. In fact, it is even common for machines to be in use for 30 to 35 years. Many airlines would rather rely on other long-haul airlines because of the comparatively high costs. “Newer generations of aircraft generally consume less fuel and are correspondingly more efficient,” explains Airbus.

Lufthansa fleet of 34 A340-type aircraft

Lufthansa also points out that older aircraft are not always more prone to failure than newer ones. “Aircraft have a fairly long service life, and many components are replaced (typically several times) and regularly serviced during their useful life,” emphasizes the group. Nevertheless, the airline parked its A340-600 sub-fleet in Teruel, Spain, for around a year and a half and temporarily put it up for sale. Only last year, Europe’s largest airline put five machines back into regular service – for example on routes to North America.

Five more followed this summer. According to Lufthansa, the renewed use is due to the fact that the demand for long-haul flights after the corona pandemic rose sharply and at the same time both Boeing and Airbus postponed the orders. There was a similar effect with the A380 fleet, which was also reactivated. When the operation of the A340 series will finally end cannot be said at the moment.

The Bundeswehr, on the other hand, has now brought forward its retirement of the two A340 aircraft that Lufthansa bought used in 2011. One of them was actually supposed to be discarded in September, and the Baerbock aircraft at the end of 2024. “We will prematurely decommission the two A340s as soon as possible, that is, in the coming weeks,” said a spokesman. Instead, the existing, more modern A350 will be used for long-haul routes in the future.

Left calls for abolition readiness to fly

The government pilots are part of the Defense Ministry’s flight readiness service, so they are flown by Bundeswehr pilots. It has 16 airplanes and three helicopters. This also includes five large long-haul aircraft, the classic government aircraft. The latest are two Airbus A350s that entered service last year. The cancellation of the Baerbock trip sparked a new debate in Berlin about the Luftwaffe’s air transport association.

The head housekeeper of the left-wing faction, Gesine Lötzsch, demanded in the “Spiegel” their abolition and the switch to scheduled flights: “The readiness to fly is expensive, unreliable and causes an oversized ecological footprint. That’s not going to work with saving the climate and the federal budget,” she explained. The FDP defense politician Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann called the event “simply embarrassing” and called for the procurement of new aircraft.

The Ministry of Defense has meanwhile denied that there are more breakdowns in government aircraft than in normal scheduled airlines: “We are quite normal on the technical level of a renowned airline”. Due to the small fleet, however, damaged planes cannot be replaced as quickly as with a large airline. In addition, the attention to the politicians’ flights is simply greater, so that mishaps lead to headlines more often. According to the ministry, the government aircraft are serviced by “a well-known airline”. The fleet is therefore in excellent condition.


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