[edited from initial posting]
Last week we were had a visit with Bernd Bechtel, Head of Group Fleet Management of Thomas Cook Group Airlines. The leisure travel group currently operates 32 757 and consists of four airlines, Thomas Cook Airlines Belgium, Thomas Cook Airlines Scandinavia, Thomas Cook Airlines Belgium and Condor Flugdienst. As one of the biggest European 757 operators, we wanted to know how and when they’d replace their biggest single aisle aircraft.
First let’s take a look at their current fleet roll over plan:
The group’s 757 fleet mainly serves short and medium range routes from Northern Europe to the Mediterranean (Balearics, North Africa and Canary Islands) and Turkey. Therefore they have an average stage length of 3-3.5 hours with a maximum stage length of 6-6.5 hours. In recent years they also used the 757-200 to Banjoul (Gambia) and from the UK to Canada. This implies the use of different seating configurations on their short-medium and long haul routes:
Our questions to Mr. Bechtel:
Q1: Do you think that the A321neo LR and the 737-9MAX can replace the 757 on the your routes?
Mr. Bechtel explained, that the 757 can be used in two different ways:
- Short and Medium haul: High density seating configuration with a good takeoff performance from short fields. This applies to the group’s flight ops profile.
- Long haul: The 757-200 can be used in a 160-180-seat configuration to cross the Atlantic (e.g. United/Continental).
Currently our group is not in need of the 757’s long haul capabilities. The ranges that are offered by the A321neo LR/B737-9MAX are in our current flight plan therefore not necessary. That said, a logical replacement option at present is the A321.
Compared to the 757-200, a loss of 6.8% in seat capacity is acceptable by Thomas Cook Airlines and can be compensated with an increase in frequencies. In terms of takeoff performance, Mr. Bechtel explained, the A321-200CEO is able to serve 98% of their routes considering any bad runway scenario. This means the most unfavorable runway configuration is considered to assure no weight restrictions during daily operation.
Considering the 757-300, Mr. Bechtel sees no other current aircraft offering the seat capacity and cost per seat mile capabilities for the current routes. Especially in the summer months, the Group Airlines are in need of big capacity aircraft on a relatively short stage lengths. The A321neo LR and the B737-9MAX are too small and similarly sized aircraft, (such as the former envisaged Boeing 787-3 and Airbus A300/310) are either not available or not offered to accomplish the 757’s missions to the same degree. Hence Thomas Cook Group Airlines want to keep the -300’s until the end of the decade.
Mr. Bechtel pointed out, that the 757-300 is an extremely good aircraft with capabilities that complement the group airlines network.
Q2: According to which parameters do you measure a potential replacement for the 757s? How big is their impact?
Mr. Bechtel depicted three main decision drivers:
- Specific fuel consumption: According to Mr. Bechtel, About 30 to 40 percent of the aircraft’s costs are due to its specific fuel consumption. Hence this is a very important parameter to consider
- The aircraft’s ownership costs vary depending on the aircraft’s age. The older it is, the lower the ownership costs share of total cost.
- Maintenance costs vary with the age of the airliner.
Moreover Mr. Bechtel considers several crucial factors that a new aircraft has to offer:
- Obviously the number of seats is essential to the leisure airlines that needs a certain capacity during holiday months.
- The “environmental friendliness” is a key driver. New airframes have to accomplish certain values regarding CO2 , NOX and noise emissions. With regard to the night curfews at German airports, the group is keen to get quiet aircraft to ensure the lowest burden to airport environments. Moreover the new aircraft must overcome all environmental hurdles for the next 12 years.
- In route studies any new airliner’s performance and range capabilities are matched to the group’s current and future requirements. Due to the fact that the airline destination portfolio contains some smaller airports, a sufficient take off performance is required.
- Fleet commonality: The group had 10 different airframe combinations in 2009. On the short and medium haul segment, the two airlines are harmonizing towards a homogeneous fleet, consisting only two aircraft types by 2016.
- A320 family (36 A321, 14 A320), all equipped with one engine type (CFM56B).
- The 757-300.
- Availability: The new airframe has to be available at the time needed. This highlights the delivery slot challenge.
All of these parameters impact the cost per available seat and this variable is a good overall parameter to measure a potential replacement options.
Q3: In respect to the mentioned parameters, how do the current replacement options fulfill the requirements of the TCG?
Looking at the 757-200, the A321ceo represents a good replacement option for several reasons. It fulfills all the deal drivers mentioned above. However the key driver for the A321ceo was the number of seats, which fits very well to the group’s needs.
Mr. Bechtel further stressed that the 737-800 and 737-MAX are good aircraft, but in respect of size, it has a disadvantage for the route pattern of Thomas Cook Group Airlines compared to the A321ceo. Boeing responded with the 737-8MAX 200, which was not available at the time of their last aircraft evaluation.
In regards to the 757-300, Mr. Bechtel confirmed that the 757-300 offers the best seat mile costs and an optimal size in terms of capacity.
Q4: Assuming that the new options offered by Airbus and Boeing are not replacing the 757 completely, how long could you wait for a new design?
The group plans to keep the 757-300 until the end of the decade and will start evaluating a replacement in 1-1.5 years.
The trend of the group towards Airbus is shown by 25 new A321ceo’s ordered, which generate a fleet of up to 50 A320-family aircraft.
The bottom line from the example of Thomas Cook Group Airlines shows that current and future aircraft can only partially replace the 757. Moreover the A321neo LR and the 737-MAX9 offer a good solution for airlines which use their 757s on long haul routes.
However, a gap for a 757 replacement remains and no current or future aircraft at this stage is able to cover the wide range of 757’s capabilities at an optimum.