The Airbus A310 gained a warm reception from the national airlines of non-Warsaw Pact Europe with only the flag carriers of Britain, Austria, Belgium, Portugal and Turkey having not ordered the A300/310 by the middle of 1979. Of course all of those, except British Airways, would eventually order A310s. KLM's A310 order was signed on April 3 only two days after Lufthansa ordered 25 A310s with 25 further options. KLM's order was smaller (10 firm and 10 options) but still at a value of 1,000 million Guilders (GBP238 million) represented the airline's largest ever commitment for new aircraft.
KLM's aircraft were to be equipped with the General Electric CF6-80A engine despite its KSSU maintenance partners, SAS and Swissair, choosing the competing Pratt & Whitney JT9D for their A300/310s. This was partly because KLM had the largest overhaul facility for the CF6 in the world.
KLM received its first A310, PH-AGA "Rembrandt", on April 26, 1983 and deliveries of the ten firm aircraft continued through until September 1985. An eleventh aircraft, originally built for Martinair, was also taken up with its own A310-203s and became PH-AGH. The KLM A310s initial mission was to operate short and medium range high density routes within Europe, to places like London, Milan, Copenhagen, Paris, Barcelona and Madrid, as well as routes on the edge of Europe and Middle East like Athens, Lisbon, Tel Aviv, Beirut and Amman.
Towards the end of the 1980s KLM moved towards achieving efficiencies at its Amsterdam hub through a project named "Blokkensysteem". Often the routes the A310s were used on were low frequency, however the review called for increasing frequencies, improving aircraft utilisation and providing increased customer choice. This change meant the A310s were no longer suitable for their original purpose, as aside from Heathrow few of the routes they served were suitable for widebodies at greater frequency.
In 1990 the Gulf War reduced KLM's services into the Middle East and new aircraft like the 747-400 meant that traditional Middle-Eastern stopovers were no longer necessary. This left a gap in KLM's Middle Eastern network that needed to be filled as traffic picked up after the war ended and initially the A310 was the answer to this. Unfortunately the series 200 A310s that KLM operated had limited range and suffered payload restrictions in the hot environments of places like Dubai. Again they were not quite suitable for the routes now demanded of them.
The final nail in the 310's coffin was that KLM needed a smaller widebody capable of operating thin long-haul services, which were not suitable for its MD-11s and 747s. The A310-300 would have been a possibility, but not the 200. In fact ILFC was able to offer both the A310-300 and the 767-300ER however the larger size of the 767 favoured it even though it could only fit LD2 containers within its cargo hold.
The 767s began to join the fleet in February 1995 and replaced the A310s 1 for 1. Even so they were a relatively short term option themselves and when their 10 year lease term was completed they were returned and themselves replaced by Airbus A330s. KLM's A310s were all eventually converted to freighters and joined FedEx where they saw long careers. Several have only been retired recently and are still stored at Victorville, although it is highly unlikely they will see further service. KLM's A310s were perhaps some of the last of a generation of widebody airliners commonly used on intra-European services by the major national carriers. Nowadays with LCCs piling on 737s and A320s the thought of using regular widebodies on such flights seems very old fashioned, however the A310s did the job they were originally bought for with distinction.
I'm Richard Stretton: a fan of classic airliners and airlines who enjoys exploring their history through my collection of die-cast airliners. If you enjoy the site please donate whatever you can to help keep it running: