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A340 fleet: last Asian operator, Philippine Airlines, bows out

Philippine Airlines (PAL) has become the latest airline to phase out A340s, operating its last A340-300 scheduled flight at the end of Sep-2018 without fanfare. PAL accelerated the retirement of its last four A340-300s, a sensible decision given the recent rise in fuel prices.

There are still 156 A340s in commercial operation, according to the CAPA Fleet Database. However, there are no more aircraft of the type in Asia, where only five years ago there were 11 operators. 

The size of the active A340 fleet has been cut in half over the past seven years. More retirements are likely as rising fuel prices force airlines to re-examine the economics of ageing four engine aircraft.

Summary 

  • There are currently 26 scheduled operators of A340s but are none in Asia following the recent retirement of A340-300s at Philippine Airlines.
  • Philippine Airlines, which has operated A340s since 1996, flew its last revenue A340 flight at the end of last month.
  • There are 156 A340s in commercial operation, compared to approximately 320 in Oct-2011.
  • The number of A340 operators in Asia has been reduced from 11 to zero in just five years.

Philippine Airlines phases out its last four A340s

PAL has quietly parked its last four A340s over the past month. The airline phased out two A340-300s earlier this year but was initially intending to keep four aircraft operating until at least 2019. However, PAL decided recently to pursue an accelerated and rapid phase-out.

Two of PAL’s A340-300s operated their last revenue service in mid Sep-2018 and two more operated their last revenue service in late Sep-2018. PAL’s last scheduled A340 flight landed in Manila from Vancouver on 30-Sep-2018. 

PAL was the last remaining Asian operator of the A340. Five years ago, in Oct-2013, there were 11 A340 operators in Asia – Air China, AirAsia X, airblue, Cathay Pacific, China Airlines, China Eastern Airlines, Hainan Airlines, PAL, Singapore Airlines, SriLankan Airlines and Thai Airways.

Cathay Pacific and China Airlines were the last two Asian operators (before PAL) and phased out their A340-300s in 2017, according to the CAPA Fleet Database. China Eastern and Thai Airways were the last Asian operator of the newer A340-600, retiring their last aircraft in 2015. 

Of the 379 aircraft built, 180 are currently in service

Airbus launched the A340 programme in 1987 and ended the production run in 2010 with 379 aircraft. The -200 and -300 entered service in 1993, followed by the -500 and -600 in 2012.

Although the A340-500 and -600 entered service a decade after the -200 and -300, there are only 72 currently in active service, according to the CAPA Fleet Database. This includes only 63 commercial aircraft, since nine are in government or VIP service. 

Airbus built 132 A340-500s and -600s with production running from 2002 to 2010. The youngest commercial A340 is a -600 operated by Iberia that is only nine years old. There are only 10 A340-500s in operation, and only three of these are in commercial operation (two at Azerbaijan Airlines and one at the Portuguese wet lease/charter operator Hi Fly). 

See related report: Airbus A340-500/600 fleet profile: Lufthansa, Iberia retain large fleets, Asian airlines retire them

There are still 108 A340-200/300s in service, including 93 commercial aircraft, according to the CAPA Fleet Database. The youngest A340-300 was built in 2005 and is operated by South African Airways (SAA). There are no more A340-200s in scheduled commercial service.

Lufthansa is the largest operator 

There are still 26 scheduled operators of A340s – although none of these are in Asia. Lufthansa is the largest operator, with 17 A340-600s and 11 A340-300s still in active service. As a group, Lufthansa has 43 aircraft (across five operators).

Iberia, South African Airways (SAA) and Iran’s Mahan Air are the only other airlines with at least 10 active aircraft. Mahan, SAA and Lufthansa are the only scheduled airlines still operating both the -300 and -600. (Hi Fly also operates two types, the -300 and -500, but is not a scheduled airline and has only seven active A340s.)

A340 scheduled operators by size of active fleet: as of 1-Oct-2018

Rank Airline Fleet size Variants
1. Lufthansa 28 -600 (17),  -300 (11)
2. Iberia 17  -600
3. South African 16 -600 (9), -300 (7)
4.  Mahan Air 11 -600 (6), -300 (5)
5. SAS 8 -300 
6.  Virgin Atlantic 7 -600
7. Air Tahiti Nui 5 -300
8. SWISS 5 -300
9. Air Belgium  4 -300
  Air Mauritius 4 -300
  Edelweiss  4 -300
  Joon  4 -300
  Lufthansa CityLine 4 -300
  Qatar Airways 4 -600
  TAP Portugal 4 -300
  Turkish Airlines  4 -300
17. Aerolineas Argentinas 2 -300
  Air France 2 -300
  Azerbaijan Airlines  2 -500
  Brussels Airlines 2 -300
  Kam Air 2 -300
22. Air Madagascar 1 -300
  Avior Airlines 1 -300
  Iran Aseman  1 -300
  Surinam Airways  1 -300
  Syrian Airlines 1 -300

PAL was one of the airlines operating the A340 the longest 

PAL operated A340s for 22 years. The airline first took delivery of eight new A340s in 2H1996 and 1997, those aircraft consisting of four A340-200s and four A340-300s. However, the A340-200s were only operated for a short time and were returned after PAL was put into receivership in 1998.

PAL continued to operate its original four A340-300s until 2014, when they were phased out along with 747-400s as part of a fleet renewal programme. However, six newer model secondhand A340-300s were acquired as part of the fleet renewal programme. Four of these were delivered in 2013 and another two in 2014.

The six newer model A340-300s were all ex-Iberia aircraft that had been manufactured from 1999 to 2002. There were in a slightly different configuration from PAL’s original A340-300s and had more modern – but still outdated – inflight products. These six aircraft were configured with 218 economy seats in 2x4x2 configuration and 36 recliner style business class seats in 2x2x2 configuration.

PAL now has 28 widebody aircraft and three widebody types

The recent phase-out of the last four A340-300s reduces PAL’s widebody fleet to 28 aircraft, consisting of 15 A330-300s, 10 777-300ERs and three A350-900s. 

Philippine Airlines widebody fleet: as of 1-Oct-2018

Aircraft In service On order 
Airbus A330-300E 15 0
Airbus A350-900XWB 3 3
Boeing 777-300ER 10 0
Total: 28 3

The 777-300ERs are in 370-seat two class configuration with 42 angled flat seats in business and 328 economy seats.

The A330-300s are split into two configurations, consisting of eight 309-seat three class aircraft (18 lie-flat business, 24 premium economy and 267 economy) and seven 363-seat two class aircraft (18 lie-flat business and 345 economy).

The A350-900s are in 295-seat three class configuration (30 lie-flat business, 24 premium economy and 241 economy). 

PAL has orders for another three A350-900s. One is slated to be delivered within the next few weeks and the other two in 1H2019.

PAL now has a very young widebody fleet

The phase-out of the ageing A340s means PAL’s oldest widebody aircraft is now nine years old. Of the 28 aircraft, 25 are less than six years old.

All 15 A330s were delivered in 2013 and 2014, and the A350s have all been delivered over the past few months. PAL’s first two 777-300ERs were delivered in late 2009 and early 2010. Another four 777-300ERs were delivered in 2012 and 2013 and the final four in 2016 and 2017. 

PAL’s average widebody fleet age is currently approximately four years. The average fleet age for the PAL Group (includes the full service regional subsidiary PAL Express) is less than six years.

Philippine Airlines Group average fleet age: as of 1-Oct-2018

PAL’s average fleet age will be reduced further as the last three A350s are delivered, along with another 17 A321neos. PAL has taken delivery of four 168-seat A321neos over the past five months and is slated to take another two by the end of 2018.

The six 168-seat A321neos are all configured for long haul operations, with extra fuel tanks and 12 lie-flat business class seats. The remaining 15 A321neos, which will be delivered from 2019, will be used for short haul operations, featuring recliner seats in business and a higher-capacity economy cabin.

PAL’s Australia and New Zealand operation relied heavily on A340s 

The long haul A321neos, along with the A350-900s, have enabled PAL to phase out its A340s. The first regular A321neo route was Manila-Brisbane, which was initially launched with A340-300s. PAL is also now deploying A321neos on some of its Manila-Sydney services, freeing up one of its A330-300s for other long haul routes. 

Manila-Sydney was an A340-300 route until 3Q2017, when PAL replaced the A340s with newly retrofitted three class A330-300s. PAL also operated the A340-300 on Manila-Melbourne until 3Q2017, when the airline began deploying the three class A330-300s. 

PAL transitioned Manila-Auckland from A340-300s to three-class A330-300s more recently, in Jun-2018.

PAL also uses A340s to the US and regionally 

PAL also continued to operate A340-300s on some of its Los Angeles and San Francisco services until earlier this year, as well as on several short haul routes within Asia. PAL operated A340s to Honolulu until late 2014, when it began deploying A330-300s (initially the 363-seat two class aircraft and from Jun-2017 the new 309-seat three class configuration).

Although Vancouver was its last A340 flight, PAL has operated almost all its Vancouver services with 777-300ERs over the past several years. From Nov-2018 PAL will use the 777-300ER for all its services to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Toronto and Vancouver. The A350 will be used to upgrade New York, which is currently served via Vancouver using 777-300ERs, to nonstop in late Oct-2018.

PAL has already deployed the A350-900 on Manila-London, freeing up 777-300ERs for more North America services. Before the New York launch, PAL has also temporarily been using the A350 to operate selected services on several routes, including Bangkok, Los Angeles, Tokyo Haneda and Vancouver. 

The phase-out of the A340 closes a chapter in PAL’s history – as well as a chapter in Asian airline history.

PAL’s new long haul fleet provides a step change in efficiency as well as significant product improvements, which are critical in its bid for a five-star rating. PAL’s A340s were inefficient and had outdated interiors, resulting in a competitive disadvantage in today’s environment of rising fuel prices and Asian airlines that are generally operating modern fleets.

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