In an effort to make the Airbus A340-600 more attractive to airlines, the European manufacturer has started preparations to certify the aircraft for a 475 maximum seating capacity.
The certification work was launched two weeks ago, according to Vice President-Freighters and A340 Asset Management, Andreas Herrmann. The process is expected to last 10-12 months, leading to certification by the end of next year.
Airbus presented the plans to a forum of A340 owners and operators in London. The package includes a commitment by Rolls-Royce to reduce engine maintenance costs for the Trent 500 to a level comparable to the General Electric GE-90 that powers the competing Boeing 777 fleet, Herrmann says. Engine maintenance costs, along with the higher fuel burn, have been major factors driving airlines away from the A340.
The A340 has been out of production for two years. Of the 377 aircraft (including all variants) delivered by Airbus, 358 remain in service, according to the manufacturer. Airbus currently is trying to re-market 16 A340s—five ex-Virgin Atlantic A340-600s, four ex-Singapore Airlines A340-500s and seven A340-300s.
The higher maximum seating and commitment to lower engine maintenance costs are part of a broader communications initiative by Airbus, Rolls-Royce and CFM to improve the aircraft’s image.
Airbus argues that taking lower ownership costs into account, the A340 is competitive with the Boeing 777-200ER and -300ER.
The re-certification work to allow 475 seats will not require an emergency evacuation test, nor changes to the exit doors. According to Marino Modena, director-asset management marketing, Airbus could have gone for the higher limit at entry-into-service, but at the time there was no demand for it. At 440 seats, the A340-600 currently has the same limit as the -300.
However, Airbus believes the situation has changed. Among other niches, the manufacturer sees a need for charter carriers operating Boeing 747-400s in high-density seating configurations to phase out that type. Getting to 475 seats would require airlines to go to a single-class layout at a pitch of 32 in. and eight-abreast seating. Airbus is also offering a two-class layout with 457 seats in economy, but this would only be possible if airlines went to nine-abreast in economy.
At a width of 16.7 in., seats would fall far below the 18-in. minimum that Airbus is proposing in its current marketing campaign.