While other airlines dump the A340, SWISS has just returned the first of its refurbished jets to the air

14 March, 2019

As fuel prices have been creeping up again in recent years, a number of the world's airlines have been retiring their less-efficient four-engined Airbus A340s from commercial service and replacing them with modern twins.

While at one time a variant of the A340 held the title of flying the world's longest ever passenger route, the aircraft ultimately fell victim to the introduction of the ETOPS (Extended Twin Engine Operations) concept and resultant direct competition from its own sister, the A330.

But for some airlines the aircraft still plays an important role within its operations. The CAPA - Centre for Aviation Fleet Database says there are more than 150 aircraft still in commercial service, albeit a proportion are used for charter and government needs. The Lufthansa Group is currently the largest user of the type, ahead of Iberia and South African Airways, the only other customers with more than two aircraft.

At the Lufthansa Group's SWISS International Air Lines subsidiary, a fleet of five of the type is deployed alongside A330-300 and Boeing 777-300ER equipment on a long-haul network that currently extends to 24 destinations. Although the carrier had initially planned to retire the type, it is currently investing in a nose-to-tail cabin refurbishment that will see the type continue flying routes from its Zurich base long into the next decade.

Almost ten years since a previous upgrade, the refurbishment programme entails developing and installing new First, Business and Economy Class seats, providing a new inflight entertainment system that also offers internet connectivity, installing new galleys and comprehensively modernising the entire interior (including adopting a new lighting concept) in all three seating cabins.

The refurbishment delivers further passenger benefits, too, and raises the inflight comfort aboard SWISS's Airbus A340s to that currently on offer on its Boeing 777s and helping to standardise the product offering, especially important to corporate customers.

The first refurbished SWISS A340 (registration, HB-JMH) returned to service on 07-Mar-2019 on the Zurich - Tokyo route. Over subsequent days it was deployed on alternating flights to Boston and Tokyo, before being used on the Zurich - Johannesburg route on 12-Mar-2019. As this story was published the aircraft was making its return journey from the South African city.

All five of SWISS' A340s will enjoy the refurbishment and will undergo the work one after another; under current planning all five A340s should be refurbished by summer of this year, confirms the airline.

It has been a strong start to the year for SWISS with the airline transporting 1,239,760 passengers in Jan-2019, a 5.4% increase on the same month last year. A total of 11,599 flights were operated during the period, 6.0% more than in Jan-2018. Systemwide passenger capacity for January was raised 3.6% from its prior-year level in available seat-kilometre (ASK) terms. Total traffic volume for the month, measured in revenue passenger-kilometres (RPK), was 8.2% up on the prior-year period. Systemwide seat load factor improved accordingly, rising 3.3 percentage points to 77.8%.