G-VSUN ‘Rainbow Lady’ Was the first of the A340-313 variants deployed by Virgin Atlantic in 1996 and her final withdrawal yesterday brings to an end 22 years of Virgin Atlantic operations with the type in general.
Virgin Atlantic took delivery of its first Airbus A340-311 when G-VBUS “Lady In Red” joined the fleet in November 1993. G-VAEL “Maiden Toulouse” followed later that year. They were equipped with the CFM56-5C2 engines.
A further two aircraft G-VFLY “Dragon Lady” and G-VSKY “China Girl” arrived in 1994. All aircraft to this point were of the initial A340-311 variant, however when G-VSUN “Rainbow Lady” arrived in 1996 this was of the updated A340-313 model, with the CFM56-5C4 engines that had improved mechanics, software and fuel efficiency.
Two further A340-311s did join the fleet however when, always up for a bargain, Richard Branson took former Airbus prototypes G-VHOL “Jetstreamer” and G-VSEA “Plain Sailing” in 1997.
The final three of four A340-313s arrived in 1997, G-VAIR “Maiden Tokyo” and 1998 G-VELD “African Queen” and G-VFAR “Diana”, named after the Princess of Wales.
The long range four engined Airbus A340-300 was smaller than then existing Boeing 747-200 fleet and thus enabled the airline to launch routes which would not immediately require a larger capacity aircraft. Similarly on routes which saw demand shift seasonally the A340-300 could be utilised during periods of lower demand.
With the larger A340-600 joining the fleet from 2002 the A340-300 fleet began to decline. The first departure was G-VSKY which left the fleet in 2003, found a new home with British West Indian Airlines but was scrapped by 2009. G-VBUS was leased to Virgin Nigeria in 2005 then found a home with Air Comet in Spain before being scrapped in 2009. G-VAEL departed in 2006 and also found a home with Air Comet before moving on to Safi Airways of Afghanistan. The two former prototypes G-VHOL and G-VSEA departed in 2011.
In 2011 when being repainted into the new billboard livery at Manchester G-VFAR “Diana” was renamed “Molly”.
The remaining fleet consisted of the four A340-313 models G-VAIR “Maiden Tokyo”, G-VELD “African Queen”, G-VFAR “Molly” and G-VSUN “Rainbow Lady”. The aircraft were all based at London Heathrow where they spent the vast majority of their working lives and operated on routes to Africa, India, the USA, China and Japan.
With the arrival of the 787-9’s the A343’s, long considered outdated and inefficient were quickly retired. Originally the final flights were due in October 2015 but these were brought forward by six months. G-VELD preceded G-VSUN by a month. G-VELD operated the last Vancouver and Cape Town flights while G-VSUN ended Virgin Atlantic’s long standing but now unprofitable route to Tokyo Narita this year. The final flight was VS22 from Washington Dulles on 10th April, G-VSUN has now been flown to Gatwick for component recovery. It is likely that she’ll be scraped (not at Gatwick) as the demand for used A343’s is pretty non-existent. There are now no UK registered A340-300’s operational.
The Phoenix version of G-VELD – the silver paint was a travesty of the real colour – A333 G-VSEXY was given the same treatment: