The Air France jetliner that burst into flames after crashing in Toronto is the first A340 plane to crash since the craft was introduced by manufacturer Airbus more than a decade ago.
The plane in Tuesday’s accident was an A340-300, an Airbus spokeswoman confirmed Tuesday night. The plane is part of the A330/A340 family of six related aircraft, all sharing the same airframe.
The A340 has never crashed since it was introduced for commercial service in 1992, the spokeswoman, Barbara Kracht, said, speaking by telephone from Toulouse, France.
The plane is a very popular “workhorse” among carriers serving Asian and trans-Atlantic routes, with a very good safety record, said Chris Yates, an aviation specialist with Jane’s Transport magazine.
There are currently 237 of the A340-300 and its sister craft, the A340-200, in operation, according to Airbus’ Web site. The four-engine plane is typically configured to carry 295 passengers and fly up to 7,400 miles before refueling.
Besides Air France, the A340-300 is flown by Taiwan’s China Airlines, Air Mauritius, TAP Air Portugal and Air Tahiti Nui.
The plane’s manufacturer, Airbus, is 80 percent owned by European Aeronautic Defence & Space Co. Britain’s BAE Systems PLC owns the rest.
Recent months have brought Airbus a wealth of positive attention, in part from continued strong sales of its jets and robust earnings. But most of the publicity has focused on the company’s test flight in April of the A380, the world’s largest jetliner, capable of carrying as many as 840 passengers.
Paris-based Air France-KLM Group is the world’s largest airline in terms of revenue. It is the product of the French flagship airline’s acquisition last year of Dutch carrier KLM. For the year ended in March, the company earned $443 million on revenues of $24.1 billion.
Air France-KLM operates a fleet of 375 planes for 1,800 daily flights, according to the company’s Web site. In the last fiscal year, it carried 43.7 million passengers to 84 countries around the globe. That also made it the largest European carrier in terms of the number of passengers carried.
Although it was too early to draw any conclusions about Monday’s accident, Yates said, “we’re probably talking about a weather-related issue here.”
Although modern airliners are safer than ever, extreme conditions can still be dangerous, especially during takeoff and landing.
“You can never account for weather,” Yates said. “A thunderstorm can happen anywhere — it comes down to the judgement of the air traffic controller and the skill of the pilot to determine whether it’s appropriate to land or to divert elsewhere.”