Emirates has retired two of its 10 Airbus A340-500s, and is breaking one for spares, as sustained high fuel prices take their toll on operations of the four-engined aircraft.

The Dubai network carrier introduced the ultra-long range airliner in 2003, meaning that its oldest aircraft is only 10 years old. But the high cost of fuel makes the aircraft uneconomic to fly now, says Emirates Airline president Tim Clark.

“We’ve taken a big hit to retire them, but [their poor economics means] there’s no point in flying them,” says Clark. “They were designed in the late 1990s with fuel at $25-30. They fell over at $60 and at $120 they haven’t got a hope in hell.”

Clark says that Emirates is looking to accelerate the phase-out of its remaining eight A340-500s, and if it cannot find any buyers, “they’re going to the knacker’s yard”.

One A340-500 has been ferried to Ras al-Khaimah for parting out, while a second is stored in Dubai, where it may be retained as a back-up aircraft. “I’m thinking about that,” says Clark, who adds that Emirates has “zeroed” the aircraft’s book value.

Emirates will use spares removed from the first aircraft to support the remaining eight in service.

The Rolls-Royce Trent 500-powered airliner nominally seats 313 passengers and is a short-fuselage, ultra-long-range derivative of the A340-600. Emirates operates its A340-500s in a 258-seat layout.

With its 9,000nm (16,650km) range, the -500 was at service entry touted by Airbus as the world’s longest-range airliner, which was behind Emirates’ decision to order it.

“When we bought it, it was the only aeroplane that could fly nonstop to the west coast of the USA or the east coast of Australia,” says Clark. “Unfortunately for Airbus, nobody foresaw fuel doing what it did.”

Airbus delivered a total of 32 A340-500s between 2003 and 2010. Emirates has been the largest operator, taking delivery of 10. Other operators have included Arik Air, Etihad, Singapore Airlines, TAM and Thai Airways, while several A340-500s are operated as government transports.

Source: Flight International