Airbus's decision this week to axe the A340 confirmed what many have known for some time, that there was little or no prospect for the further sales of the long-range four-engined widebody.
The move leaves Airbus temporarily without an in-production offering in the 300-400 seat class - a sector from which it will be absent now for at least six more years until deliveries of the A350-1000 are due to begin.
Production will end with the delivery of the 379th A340, some two decades on from the first in 1993. In an interesting juxtaposition, Boeing this week started production of its 1,000th 777, just 16 years after it shipped the first.
While it has undoubtedly been stubbornly high oil prices that ultimately killed off the A340 - even Toulouse has long acknowledged that its four-engined configuration means it suffers a fuel burn penalty over the 777 - the reality is that the Airbus has faced a struggle almost since launch.
The A340 and 777, though very different in configuration, were both designed some two decades ago with the same mission in mind - to replace the big trijets then in service. Airbus actually developed the A340 in reaction to the then McDonnell Douglas MD-11 - itself a larger, updated version of the DC-10 - and an anticipated move by Boeing in to the same space.
But back then in the late 1980s, Airbus made one fatal error. Having beaten Boeing to market with its A340 and its medium-range twinjet sister, the A330, it designed its long-haul widedody with the view that Boeing - burdened with a difficult birth for the 747-400 and the likely need to respond to the A320 with an all-new single-aisle - did not have the resources to commit to an all-new widebody. Perhaps Boeing even helped Airbus apply this logic by referring to its studies under the codename "767-X", suggesting the project would be a derivative of that twinjet.
After first unveiling the A340 with power from four spectacular IAE V2500 "Superfans" (a novel geared engine with variable pitch fans that promised significant fuel burn savings), Airbus was forced into an embarrassing scramble to get CFM International onto the programme after IAE decided that the engine was too much of a technical gamble.
But the real problems started for the A340 when Boeing launched the all-new 777 in 1990, and its salesmen systematically went through Airbus's hard-fought customer base. By the time the big Boeing made its debut in 1995, Airbus was already looking to ways to develop the A340 into a new niche, but was resolute in the belief that its four-engine formula still held the answer.
Through a stretch and new engines with almost double the thrust, Airbus spent $2 billion creating the Rolls-Royce Trent 500-powered A340-500/600 which was briefly the world's longest airliner, but significantly a serious rival to the 747-400.
At first this looked like a smart move. For Airbus knew that Boeing would be reluctant to develop a twinjet that competed with its own "queen of the skies" and in any case faced a huge technical hurdle convincing the engine makers to come up with turbofan that developed in excess of 110,000lb thrust required.
But again history shows that Airbus called it wrong, for with GE's help Boeing was able to create the 777-300ER. This machine alone has sold 545 units, compared with 379 for the A340's entire production run. Of these, just 133 are the Trent-powered variants which means that the aircraft fell well short of the 500-unit plus market that was likely to have once been projected for it.
"We had considered the programme gone a couple of years ago - in fact 2004 was the last year when -600 orders were in double figures," says Chris Seymour, head of market analysis at Flightglobal's data and consultancy division Ascend.
As Airbus developed its product strategy in the 1990s, certain things conspired against the manufacturer as it doggedly stuck to its "four engines for four long haul" strategy (a slogan, incidentally, that Virgin adopted for its A340-600 introduction in a marketing campaign bankrolled by Airbus). Toulouse was clearly less convinced than Boeing that about the likelihood of extended range twin-engine operations being relaxed to the extent that they ultimately have been.
"Back in the late 1990s the A340-600 was the logical 'next step' as the market looked to move up to 350 seats," says Seymour. "The -500 with ultra-long range never really developed - it was killed off by higher fuel prices and limited premium demand for 18h nonstop flights."
But it was a comment by John Leahy reported in flight International in 2006 that ultimately consigned the A340 to history, says Ascend director of valuations and appraisals Les Weal. "Leahy was quoted as saying that Airbus could compensate for the A340-600's higher operating costs over the 777 'by offering cashback deals, rather than investing in a costly redesign'. This comment was the death knell and undermined residual values for existing owners."
Airbus will argue that the A340's relatively poor sales are far outweighed by the hugely successful A330, which has sold almost 1,200 units.
Truth be told, some veteran Airbus executives quietly rue Airbus's lengthy obsession with four engines for the long-haul market, and wonder what could have been if the decision to develop the A330's payload/range performance (initially through the A330-200 "shrink) in the late 1990s had been taken earlier. And the final irony in this two versus four battle? Four decades ago it was Airbus that pioneered of the widebody twinjet.