Monday, June 3, 2013

Shot of the day quiz revealed: LAX A340 family photo

Wow - apparently it was a slow weekend out there in the blogosphere. Lots of you chimed in with comments about this shot, and a number of you nailed it. Several others called out various things I hadn't noticed, so shout outs to you all.

As most of you observed, this photo features three A340s. What I thought was noteworthy about this shot was that it featured all three variants of the Airbus A340 which can regularly be seen at LAX. Namely the A340-300, -500, and -600.  No scheduled carriers bring A340-200s to LAX, although I have seen one here a few times.

Of the three models that we see daily at LAX, the A340-300 is by far the most numerous. Modeled here by Swiss, we also receive A343s from Iberia, Phillipines, and Air Tahiti. Previous A343 operators at LAX include Air France, Lufthansa, LAN, and Virgin Atlantic.

The A340-500 is the rarest of the three variants seen at LAX; less than three dozen were built, and only one carrier still operates them here: Singapore, who has five of them and operates (for a few more months, anyway) the A345 on the longest scheduled routes in the world. The Newark-Singapore route is the longest, followed by LAX-Singapore. Singapore has configured their A345s for 100 passengers (no coach seating), but will be trading their A345 fleet to Airbus as part of a deal to acquire more A380s and A350s. I've seen speculation that Singapore has been losing money on these routes for some time, as the price of fuel has escalated greatly over the last five years. The -500 has the longest range of any of the A340 models; it can fly 9,000 nautical miles (17,000 km), and in order to do that it has a fuel capacity of 59,000 U.S. gallons (222,000 litres). Singapore has said that they're retiring the A345s in accordance with their "young fleet" policy; their A345 fleet is now approaching ten years of age. The only other operator to bring A345s to LAX was Thai, who had four and operated theirs between LAX and Bangkok, a route that I believe was a bit longer than the LAX-Singapore route. Thai's A345s disappeared from LAX last year, replaced by B772s and B773s. The nonstop service to Bangkok went away at the same time; Thai's Boeings now go to Seoul, South Korea, before continuing on to Bangkok. In the same vein as the Singapore speculation, I read somewhere that Thai would have needed to operate their A345s at 120-percent capacity in order to break even on the LAX-Bangkok and similar routes. I suspect that both the Bangkok and Singapore to Los Angeles nonstops were maintained for the prestige of offering the only direct service between those city pairs, but prestigious does not equate to economically viable. I don't know what became of Thai's A345s, but I imagine that Airbus may have some difficulty reselling the ones they're taking in from Singapore, as the A345 is a really niche aircraft, built for really long routes. Emirates operates the world's largest fleet of A340-500s; they have ten, but we don't see them at LAX. I'll be sorry to see the A345s leave; at LAX the -500 is our favorite A340 variant. The big Rolls Royce Trent engines that it shares with the -600 make it a much better performer than the -300, but it doesn't pose all the complications on the ground that we face with the longer -600.

Lufthansa is one of four A340-600 operators at LAX; the others are China Eastern, Iberia, and Virgin Atlantic. Thai also has been seen here in an A346, although I can only recall it happening once or twice; it was not a regular thing. Until the introduction of the Boeing B747-8, the A340-600 was the longest airliner in the world. I've previously detailed the problems that the A346 creates for controllers at LAX, so I won't belabor that point further, except to say that we're glad that there aren't more of them.

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