ANALYSIS: High storage rates signal sunset decade for A340

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The global storage rate for the Airbus A340 aircraft is 13.3%, but pending retirements will push that number higher.

According to data from Flightglobal's Ascend Online Fleets database, of the world's 360 operational A340s, 48 aircraft have been placed in storage.

The operator with the most A340s in storage is Airbus Asset Management itself, which has seven CFM International CFM56 powered A340-300s with vintages ranging from 1996-2000 stored.

Of these, four examples were operated by China Eastern Airlines, which retired its last A340-300 in October 2012. The carrier introduced the type in 1996 and once operated five examples. Two others once belonged to Air China.

Ascend shows that four aircraft, registrations B-2381 to B-2384, will be permanently withdrawn from service in December. Airbus has parked the two remaining former Chinese examples, B-2385 and B-2386, but Ascend indicates that the airframer has yet to decide their fate.

Airbus's seventh stored A340-300, registration F-WJKN, formerly belonged to Iberia. It has been parked since 2012 and is scheduled to be purchased by Philippine Airlines (PAL). The FAA rates PAL as a Category 2 country, which means PAL is restricted to using Boeing 747-400s or A340-300s on US routes.

Of the operational A340-500s in the world, nine aircraft are in storage - a storage rate of 26%. Four of these belong to Thai Airways International, which has been trying to sell the aircraft for several years.

According to Ascend's V1Market Commentary for the second quarter of 2013, the A340-500 faces a bleak outlook. Singapore Airlines will return five A340-500s to Airbus in the fourth quarter of 2013 when it ceases operations on the world's longest route, Singapore-Newark.

In addition, China Eastern is looking to retire its -600s and Emirates its -500s. This will inevitably push up storage rates for the type. Airbus is offering a VVIP conversion for the -500, but Ascend says this market tends to look for more modern types.

Ascend lists 97 A340-600s as operational, with only 6 aircraft, or 6.2% of the fleet, in storage. Virgin Atlantic Airways, South African Airways, Lufthansa, and Iberia remain major operators of the type.

Ascend cites a number of positive attributes for the -600, including good commonality with the Airbus widebody fleet and good hot-and-high performance. Nonetheless, it will face headwinds from a number of areas, which will inevitably boost storage rates. These include its relatively small operator base and the fact that major operators will select replacements soon. In addition, there is no freighter conversion available for the type.

Storage rates for the oldest variant, the A340-200, stand at 36%, with nine of 25 operational aircraft in storage. Of sixteen in service A340-200s, only nine are used by airlines. Aerolineas Argentinas and Royal Jordanian each have four examples in service, while South African Airways has a single example in service.