Crash Is First for Airbus' A340

The Air France (search) jetliner that skidded off a Toronto runway and burst into flames Tuesday was the first A340 to crash since Airbus (search) introduced the plane in 1992.

Airbus spokeswoman Barbara Kracht confirmed the model as an A340-300, part of the A330/A340 family of six related aircraft that share the same airframe.

Before Tuesday, no A340 in commercial service had ever crashed, Kracht said by phone from Toulouse, France.

The A340 is a popular workhorse among carriers serving Asian and trans-Atlantic routes and has a strong safety record, said Chris Yates, an aviation specialist with Jane's Transport (search) magazine. It can fly 7,400 miles without refueling and is typically configured to carry 295 passengers.

Worldwide, there are 237 A340-300s and similar A340-200s in operation, according to Airbus.
In addition to Air France, the A340-300 is flown by TAP Air Portugal, Taiwan's China Airlines, Air Mauritius and Air Tahiti Nui.

Airbus is 80 percent owned by European Aeronautic Defence & Space Co. and 20 percent owned by Britain's BAE Systems PLC. The company has drawn attention in recent months for its competition with Chicago-based Boeing Co. and its continued strong sales, robust earnings and a recent test flight of the A380, the world's largest jetliner with seating for 840 passengers.

Air France became the world's largest airline in terms of revenue last year when it acquired Dutch carrier KLM. Air France-KLM Group boasts a fleet of 375 planes and 1,800 daily flights. For the year ending in March, it earned $443 million on revenues of $24.1 billion. It also carried 43.7 million passengers, making it the largest European carrier in passenger numbers.

Modern airliners are safer than ever, Yates said, but extreme conditions can still be dangerous, especially during takeoff and landing.

When the Air France jetliner skidded off the runway Tuesday, thunderstorms were in the area.

"You can never account for weather," Yates said. "A thunderstorm can happen anywhere — it comes down to the judgment of the air traffic controller and the skill of the pilot to determine whether it's appropriate to land or to divert elsewhere."