Industry observers have been pondering a follow on to the 757 for years. The 757, even today, provides unique capabilities. For example, its range is outstanding. The 757, designed to handle coast to coast flights in the US, ended up being used on long thin routes across the North Atlantic. This enabled the 757 to perform an important task – low risk long range route development.
The 757 remains compelling because nothing has come along to replicate its capabilities. Which is why mention of the 757 attracts ongoing trade attention. The 737-900 and A321 don’t have the range payload capabilities of the 757 – close but not as good. For most airlines this is acceptable, because the 757 has special capabilities that are rarely taken to the edge.
The last 757 was delivered in 2005. The US-based fleet averages 19 years old. We mention the US a lot when discussing the 757, because its almost as if the aircraft was tailor-made for US service. Indeed, look the next chart and note how active 757s are concentrated in the US. As of 1Q14, 70.5% of all 757s in service were US-based.
We suspect the reason is that the 757’s range has less impact for most non-US airlines, barring a few like Air Astana. Older 757s retired from passenger service often find a second life at UPS or FedEx. These two airlines now have 175 757s between them, which equates to one in six (18%) of the active fleet. (DHL also has a good sized 757 fleet) Any focus on a 757 replacement will focus, in our view, on the requirements of US-based airlines.
During the recent Innovation Days event at Airbus we had the opportunity to speak with a senior Airbus manager about this very issue. Why, we asked, is there no replacement for the 757? The reply was illuminating. The 757s pushed to near maximum performance are those used over the North Atlantic. This fleet probably amounts to fewer than 50 aircraft. Airbus believes its A321 with sharklets accommodates most of a 757 operator’s needs. (American Airlines finds the A321 range trying, but then as a big 757 operator they have been spoiled) The A321neo should do even better. So, as far Airbus is concerned, there is no pressure to develop something that closely matches the 757’s capabilities.
Back to the Bloomberg story linked above. If Boeing is quietly developing a 757 replacement the nonchalant view in Toulouse will have to change rapidly.