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The Abating Airbus: The A310 Fades into History
“The sequel is never a good as the original.” It’s a phrase often associated with TV or movies but the same could be said for Airbus Industries aircraft. Coming off the success of the A300, the Airbus A310 was supposed to provide a smaller version of the original jet for consumers. But as the A300 continues to go strong, especially in cargo operations, the A310 is rapidly decreasing from the skies as airlines transition to newer airframes in hopes of reducing the cost. The result of this is more Airbus A321s in the sky as the A310 has been reduced to just a few operators. However, there are still some chances to fly on the old bird before they are completely retired to museums and the history books.
The A310 was the second aircraft to bear the Airbus Industrie name as the company looked to offer something alongside the successful Airbus A300. The A310 would begin flight testing in 1982 with its first flight occurring in April of that year. The aircraft spent one year in flight testing before its first delivery to Swissair in 1983.
While not as successful as the A300, the A310 sold a reasonable 255 airframes before being removed from the order books in 1998 as the company moved forward with newer aircraft like the A320 and A340. As Airbus has progressed, the A310 has taken the title of being the worst selling of the A3XX product with the next to last being the A340 and A380 airframes.
Since then, the aircraft has slowly decreased from service, disappearing from fleets like Singapore Airlines, Lufthansa, Pan Am, and KLM as these airlines either went bankrupt or moved on to newer and more efficient aircraft. Despite the massive drop in usage over the years, the A310 is still present in the skies but much more difficult to find in the ever-evolving market.
Of the remaining 28 active A310s, 10 of the aircraft are based in Iran. The country’s flag carrier has slowly reduced its A310 fleet from eight to one as the airline seeks replacements for the 25-year old aircraft. Iran Air’s lone A310 (EP-IBK/MSN 671) has a route map currently dominated by European destinations, often taking trips to Frankfurt, Paris-Charles de Gaulle, London-Heathrow, Vienna, and Milan-Malpensa. Taban Airlines is also holding onto one Airbus A310 (EP-TBH/MSN 565) which operates the airline’s longer routes between Tehran and Moscow-Domodedovo, St. Petersburg and Istanbul.
However, Iran’s largest A310 operator and the largest A310 operator, in general, is Mahan Air. The company is still holding onto eight A310s that average 28.7 years old despite retiring five frames already due to age and the need for spare parts. The remaining aircraft, that account for over 20 percent of Mahan’s total fleet, are responsible for everything from Middle East and European runs between Tehran and Baghdad, Dubai, Damascus, Moscow and Istanbul to domestic flights to Bandar Abbas, Assaluyeh, Ahvaz, and Zahedan.
If Iran is a little far for your travels, North America provides plenty of chances for A310 seekers to find the fading aircraft. Two carriers, Air Transat, and FedEx, are responsible for flying 11 A310s but the clock is ticking for both fleets. FedEx’s fleet of A310s at one point hit 70 aircraft but the arrival of the Boeing 757F and 767F allowed the carrier to begin removing the French product as a means of cost reduction. The A310’s remaining routes are all Memphis based, with flights to Allentown, Winnipeg, West Palm Beach, Edmonton, Indianapolis and Lubbock making up a majority of the routes. FedEx plans to retire the remaining A310s within a year as the carrier continues to take delivery of new and used cargo aircraft.
Meanwhile, the neighbors to the north see Air Transat refuse to give up their seven A310s. The airline’s fleet of 28 years old has yet to see a reduction in size as the airline awaits delivery of A321LRs to replace the jet. The aircraft is versatile for Air Transat, operating Canadian leisure routes that can range to Caribbean cities like Punta Cana and Montego Bay to European routes like Nice, Barcelona, Prague, and Porto. The company expects to take hold of its first A321LR in 2019, which will commence the retirement process for the A310.
As for the continent of the aircraft’s origin, no passenger variants remain in operation. The last European passenger airline to retire the A310 was Azores Airlines who retired its last A310 (CS-TGV/MSN 651) on Oct. 15, 2018, as the airline transitioned from A310s to factory delivered A321neos. The only other operator of A310s is Turkish Airlines’ cargo division. But even these leased aircraft are taking a back seat to the newer Airbus A330Fs that have come to dominate Turkish Cargo’s fleet.
As the for the remaining four A310s they can be found in Yemen and Afghanistan. Both government-backed airlines, Yemenia and Ariana Afghan, respectively, have two aircraft each. Ariana Afghan uses the aircraft to fly longer routes from Kabul to Moscow-Sheremetyevo, Jeddah, Istanbul, and Dubai but can also appear flying inter-Afghanistan routes from time to time. Yemenia, on the other hand, uses its A310s for flights to Cairo, Amman, Mumbai, and Jeddah. However, the airline has come under rough times as the closing of Yemen airspace due to conflicts has resulted in Yemenia seeing operations suspended for weeks at a time.
Despite the commercial operations for the A310 coming to a close, there are some less accessible variants that will continue to fly for some time. Two military versions, the CC-150 Polaris and A310 MRTT are utilized by the German Luftwaffe and Royal Canadian Air Force for aerial refueling and VIP transport and their owners have not mentioned replacements for the aircraft. The French space agency CNES also owns one Airbus A310 titled Zero-G that allows zero-gravity flights for both contracted buyers and scientific purposes.
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