When Airbus first discussed the A340 seriously with potential customers in the mid-1980s, "...the maximum range requirement was not much more than 6,000nm [11,100km]," recalls Airbus vice president strategic planning Adam Brown. "By launch in 1987 this had grown to 6,600nm [12,200km], and the A340-300 now in production can fly 7,300nm [13,900km]. Customers now tell us that passengers don't mind being on an airliner for 18-19 hours-the A340-500 will be able to fly 8,500nm [15,700km] non-stop."

This range growth, and capacity expansion as well, have characterised the A330/A340 development since the two models were conceived in the early 1970s. The A340's origins can be traced back to the proposed four-engined "A300B11" derivative of the short-fuselage B10 (itself later launched as the A310). Powered by the then newly developed CFM56, the long-range 200-seat 'B11 was conceived as a new-generation replacement for the Boeing 707 and McDonnell Douglas DC-8. An enlarged A300, the 'B9, which would eventually evolve into the A330, had also been under study since the early 1970s.

In 1980, a TA prefix was adopted for the twin-aisle studies, which saw the A300B9 redesignated the TA9 and the 'B11 the TA11. While the TA9 was aimed primarily at the high-capacity, short-range markets (ie an A300B successor), the four-engined TA11 was aimed at longer ranges of up to 12,600km (6,800nm). By now Airbus' thrust requirements for the TA11 had grown to encompass a de-rated Rolls-Royce RB.211-535 or Pratt & Whitney PW2000. For a time, Airbus also proposed a twin-engined derivative of the TA11, the TA12, which would have around 3,300km less range. Airbus envisaged the three models as comprising an optimised package to compete in the L-1011 TriStar and DC-10 tri-jet replacement market.

By the mid-1980s the TA12 had been dropped, while the design of the TA9 and TA11 was being refined with, for example, the new flightdeck of the A320 being adopted, including its sidesticks in place of the control columns, plus the fly-by-wire system.

"There was much internal debate whether to go with the big twin or the quad, and when Jean Pierson was appointed as Airbus managing director in 1985 he put together a team to focus on the issues," says Adam Brown. The opinion of the world's airlines was divided. "North American operators were clearly in favour of a twin, while the Asians wanted a quad. In Europe, opinion was split between the two," says Brown.

"The majority of potential customers were in favour of a quad despite the fact, in certain conditions, it is more costly to operate than a twin -they liked that it could be ferried with one engine out, and could 'fly anywhere' - remember ETOPS [extended-range twin-engined operations] hadn't begun then," says Brown.

Although the TA9 and '11 projects were increasingly becoming the same aircraft, it was the work of the Airbus chief engineer Jean Röder which enabled the two to effectively become one. "Röder was able to create a common wing structure, with the quad's outboard engines providing bending relief to counteract to increased weights of the long-range model," says Brown. "The [development] cost savings this presented enabled us to do both aircraft." Interestingly, Brown concedes that when studying the long-range model, Airbus assumed that the competition offered by Boeing would be a 767-based derivative, rather than the all-new 777 which eventually evolved.

In January 1986, the TA9 officially became known as the A330, and the TA11 the A340. "Customer interest meant that we planned to do the quad first, and so initially it was dubbed the A330, while the twin became the A340," says Brown. "Then our salesmen came back and said that airlines would never get their brains around a twin having a 'four' in its name and the quad not-.so we reversed the designations."

In October 1986 Airbus signed an MoU with CFM International to offer a new version of the CFM56-5 as primary powerplant on the A340. At this stage it was rated at 127kN (28,600lb). The GE CF6 was the lead powerplant on the A330, but ultimately the twin would also be offered, and sold, with the R-R RB.211-derived Trent 700, and P&W PW4000.

Towards the end of 1986, IAE approached Airbus with an ultra-high bypass (UHB) "SuperFan" development of the V2500, which incorporated a gearbox-driven, variable-pitch ducted fan added to the front of the V2500 core. Airbus immediately adopted this engine for the A340 as it offered the required thrust (134kN-plus (30,000lb-plus)), as well as claimed fuel consumption savings of almost 20% compared to a similar-thrust turbofan.

Lufthansa became the first to commit to the A340 in January 1987 when plans were announced to purchase 15 SuperFan-powered A340s, and 15 options. The A330 received its first commitments in March 1987, when Air Inter signed for five orders and 15 options and Thai International for a total of eight orders and options. This was followed at the end of March when Northwest Airlines signed a letter of intent for 20 A340s and options on ten A330s.

The following month IAE cancelled the SuperFan saying "-it was felt premature to launch in the light of the technical programme risks of meeting the spring 1992 service entry."

This was a blow to the A340 sales team at a crucial time. "There was a certain amount of nail-biting-it is difficult to sell a glider," says Brown. Airbus had to regroup its A340 plans around the less-powerful, and less-efficient, but less-risky CFM56-5. While CFM developed more thrust from the engine to boost the A340 performance towards that of the SuperFan-equipped version, Airbus increased wingspan by around 3m and adopted winglets in place of the A310 wing-tip fence originally proposed.

Full go-ahead for the programme was announced on 5 June, 1987, just before the Paris air show, at which stage total commitments for the A330 and A340 had reached 98, of which 38 were for the A330 from three customers and the other 60 for the A340 from four customers. Two versions of the A340 were offered, the 260-seat -200 and 295-seat -300, while only one A330 version was available, the -300, which was similar in size to the larger A340.

Before the launch of the 777, Airbus' main rival in the long haul market was McDonnell Douglas' (MDC) DC-10-derived MD-11. Although ultimately the initial versions of the MD-11 failed to realise MDC's impressive performance claims, there was a time when its sales success made it a serious threat to the A330/A340. In 1988 Airbus and MDCseriously discussed a co-operative venture, which painted various scenarios such as an MD-11 equipped with the A340 wing, and the A320 family being adopted by MDCto replace the MD-80 family. According to an Airbus source the talks ultimately failed because MDC was not prepared to give up anything on the marketing side.

MDCsecured an important coup in 1990 when it beat Airbus to an order from Singapore Airlines for 20 MD-11s. A year later SIA dropped the MD-11 when it became clear that it would not meet its exacting performance requirements - and signed for a similar number of A340-300s instead.

"The SIA switch was a marker in the MDC/Airbus battle - it was effectively the end of the MD-11," says Brown. Airbus strengthened the A340's wing structure and increased weights to boost the range to 13,900km (7,500nm) to meet SIA's requirements.

The first A340, a -300, had its first flight on 25 October, 1991. JAA certification was awarded on 22 December, 1992 and Lufthansa put the aircraft into service in March 1993.

The first A330 was flown from Toulouse on 2 November 1992 with JAA and FAA certification being awarded simultaneously in October 1993. Air Inter inaugurated revenue services with its 412-seat A330s between Paris Orly and Marseille in January 1994.

The recession of the early 1990s, combined with a diminishing market for medium capacity twins, saw Airbus struggling to add customers and orders for the A330, but sales have been rejuvenated with the launch of a short-fuselage, longer-range version, the A330-200. Airbus gave the new programme a go-ahead in November 1995 providing a direct competitor to Boeing's successful 767-300ER. Boeing has responded with its stretched 767-400ER.

"Until now, Airbus has never had a twin with the range to match the 767-300ER. Now, we have the A330-200, which goes further, while the new stretched 767-400 has less range than its predecessor," says A330/A340 product manager Alan Pardoe.

Although the A330-300's fortunes have improved considerably in recent years, Brown would have done things differently in hindsight: "The A330-200 is going to be a real winner - in fact we were a little bit slow to identify its market potential-knowing what I know now, I would have reversed the two models' timing, and launched the smaller one first."

The new model is ten frames shorter (5.33m) than the -300, and has increased weights (by using the strengthened wing of the HGW A340-300) and additional fuel capacity. It is designed to carry 253 passengers (three-class layout) over 12,000km.

"The A330-200's introduction was timed by the development of the the structure for the high weight A340-300," says Pardoe. Airbus flew the first -200 in August 1997, and the new variant enters service in April 1998 with Canada 3000.

With customers demanding additional capacity and range, Airbus has moved to meet their requests with new A340 models. Initially, a long range derivative of the A340-200, the 232-seat -8000, is available which offers a range of 15,000km (8,000nm), but in the longer term Airbus is introducing two major derivatives, the A340-500 and -600.

"In the early 1990s we looked at simple stretches of the A330 and A340 [the -400], but these traded range for payload," says Brown. "In the mid-1990s, British Aerospace came up with a more radical solution incorporating a wing insert providing more area, which has enabled us to develop the A340-500 and -600."

In April 1996, the consortium signed a six-month exclusive study agreement with GE over the development of a new A340 engine, but this fell through when the two organisations could not agree on various key issues, such as the commercial terms.

After examining offers from both Pratt and Whitney and Rolls-Royce, Airbus announced the selection of the latter to provide its Trent 700/800-derived, 235-270kN thrust Trent 500 at Paris in June, when the programme also received a commercial go-ahead, clearing the way for customers to be signed up.

The larger of the two new models, the -600, will be some 11m longer than the -300, and will be able to carry 378 passengers (three-class) some 370km further than today's A340-300 (ie 13,900km). The A340-500 combines the new wing, engines and increased weights of the -600, with a slightly stretched -300 airframe (to balance the enlarged wing), and some 48% more fuel capacity, creating a 313-seater with a range of over 15,700km.

Airbus is aiming to give the programme a full launch before the end of 1997, provided "significant" orders are secured. Pardoe says interest so far suggests that demand "...should be fairly evenly split between the two," unlike the current models which has seen the majority of sales going to the larger variant.

The programme has taken commitments from Virgin Atlantic and Air Canada for 31 aircraft, with deliveries beginning in early 2002.

Airbus sees the new models as complements, rather than successors, to the existing A340-300. "There is no reason for it not to continue," says Pardoe: "in fact we expect the new models will have a positive impact on the sales of the existing A340-300."

The consortium has also examined the development of an enlarged "-600" version of the A330, equipped with the larger wing: "It will still lose range, and the thrust requirements mean that an engine in the [General Electric] GE90 category will be needed," says Brown. Pardoe adds that "...the market is luke warm on a larger twin...the market its clearly being driven at the moment by payload/range performance."

Despite the recent success of the A300 and A310 in the freighter role, Pardoe does not envisage an early move into the market with the A330/A340. "Combi operations are firmly out of favour now," he says, "while the medium capacity market will be satisfied in the short term by conversions of ex-passenger [MDC ]MD-11s and Boeing 747-200s," he says.l

Source: Flight International