Although Airbus has closed the A340 production line, it is likely to continue serving several routes of importance to Australian travellers for some years to come.
LAN Chile and Aerolineas Argentinas use A340-300s for the far southern sub Antarctic airspace routes between South America and Australia and New Zealand, routes too remote and devoid of emergency landing facilities for twin engined jets.
South African uses A340-200s and -300s between Johannesburg and Perth, and the A340-600 is flown by Virgin Atlantic between Sydney and London via Hong Kong, and Etihad uses both A340-500s and A340-600s between Abu Dhabi and Australia.
Opinions differ, but much as I like 777s, the almost universal switch to tight 10 across seating in economy by many carriers make them as uncomfortable as the eight across cabins in A340s. At which point the difference between flying say an Etihad A346 and an Emirates 777 on the 14 hours of agony between the UAE and Sydney or Melbourne is that the Airbus is quiet, and the Boeing is like being in a tin shed pushing mach 1. Especially up back.
Of course when it comes to nine across in a 777, Boeing wins, no contest. At least as far as I’m concerned.
The two most recent versions of the A340, the -600, which remains the longest tube flying in airline service until the Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental starts flights next year, and the A340-500, are likely to be around for up to several decades, but the service that stands out as a costly collectible, as it is an all business class jet, is the Singapore-Newark (for New York) non-stop service, in the shorter A345.
This is the longest scheduled non-stop service yet flown, and has operated since 2004 with flight times normally of around 18 hours 20 minutes but sometimes longer than 19 hours. Sometimes it passes close to or over the north pole, the shortest possible routing, and sometimes it hitches a ride on a suitably strong westerly weather system, and flies a normal trans Atlantic path across the UK, and just keeps going all the way across Asia, including the Afghanistan corridor, to Singapore.
Singapore Airlines, an enthusiastic user of the Boeing 777-300ER, decided against replacing the A345 with similarly ultra long range 777-200LRs once they became available, for a number of reasons, but the most important one was that it wanted to offer a very spacious one-two-one business class product, and in the Boeing, over such a distance, that was not an efficient use of space in what is a wider cabin, even though it tolerates this inefficiency in its -300ERs.
The A345 between Singapore and Newark is said to make minor sums of money, but you have to appreciate the strategic role seen for it by Singapore Airlines, which was to deprive its multi-stop US competitors on the route of hundreds of million of dollars in lost sales while it made only small change by comparison by offering passengers who could afford it, some big time savings and very spacious sleeping arrangements.
In short, the A345 was well worth it to Singapore Airlines because of its disproportionate effect on competing carriers.
Nevertheless, the A340 is going to fade to sepia. Just like the past glories of the Boeing 707, the Boeing 727, the fantastic mini-would-be-rocket, the Convair Coronado 990, the Caravelles, the Comets, and the rarest of lemons, the Dassault Mercure.
So keep an eye on the A340 possibilities as you fly. They aren’t making them no more.
(I once gave up a chance as a kid to fly on a Q.A.N.T.A.S Super Constellation because I wanted to fly the latest, a Boeing 707-138, and while I flew on many, many 707s, I never rode the ear splitting thundering roar of the mighty Constellation, clawing its way to a cruising altitude below the towering clouds on an intercontinental journey to what was a much more distant, and exciting world.)