When Boeing brought out the 757 and 767 they created two aircraft that were popular with airlines because they could cover many requirements. They had long-range (US transcon) and offered flexibility – common flight decks for example. It was a winning combination and the market bought into the concept. This created a new set of offerings for the middle of the market. What does the fleet look like today?
It appears even as the fleet ages many that remain in service. This underscores how well Boeing thought these two models through. They were both refined and in the case of the 767, it is still being built as a military tanker. How has the use of these aircraft evolved over time?
In the case of the 757, as the fleet has aged passenger versions have become cargo aircraft. We can also see that many have been retired from service.
In the case of the 767, we also see retirements have occurred. There have also been many cargo conversions. Although the 767 is still being built, note how few are in the “other” category. It is in this category that we would place the tankers.
It was suggested that the 787 would replace the 767 and offer a 15% improved fuel burn. The 787-8 did meet this but also turned out to be way too capable as a real 767 replacement. The 787-8 has tremendous range compared to the 767-300ER and turned out to be overkill. Many airlines that might have selected the 787-8, stayed with the 767-300ER and where they went for the 787, it was for the much better 787-9.
In the table below we list the top five active 767 fleets. Every one except Delta has now started flying the 787. ANA was the launch customer for the 787 program.
To demonstrate the switch to the 787 take a look at the next table of the 2017 fleet. The Japanese airlines have embraced the 787. Delta canceled an order for the 787 placed by Northwest Airlines after they merged. Boeing saw key customers buy into their 787 vision. As Boeing introduced new models like the -9, these customers embraced it too.
What about the 757? Here it would be fair to say Boeing fumbled a great lead it once held. The 757 turned out to be more popular after Boeing stopped making them. The production process Boeing used was expensive. This made the aircraft financially unattractive for Boeing, but operators still love it. As it ages it becomes expensive to operate. But as a freighter, it will remain in service for many years. In terms of passenger service, Boeing’s fumble has been Airbus success. The decline in the 757 has been matched by the market success of the A321, which Airbus has been regularly improving in terms of performance.
Boeing has been working hard with its customers to define the NMA which could replace the largest 737s all the way up to the 787-8. But the process has been painstaking. In the meantime, Airbus has competitive products ready in the market (A321neo/LR) or in flight test (A330neo). Boeing’s slow cooking on the NMA could be a challenge. When Boeing had early 787 fumbles, the A330 had its fastest sales pace. Time is not Boeing’s friend.