Monday, November 3, 2014

Will 757s Stop Flying Soon? Airbus Launches New A321neoLR

gathered at Toulouse-Blagnac Airport on 25 September 2014 to witness the historic first NEO flight - Photo: Airbus

People gathered at Toulouse-Blagnac Airport on 25 September 2014 to witness the historic first “neo” flight – Photo: Airbus

Recently, Leeham News broke news to the world that Airbus is offering a new variant of the A321neo.  This aircraft, dubbed the A321neoLR (rolls right off the tongue, right?) is set to extend the range of the aircraft an additional 400-500 nautical miles (nm) over the standard A321neo (now slated to be around the 4,000 nm mark).  Airbus has confirmed the aircraft, according to Leeham, and they say that it will have a 100 nm range advantage over the 757-200W, the variant used primarily for trans-Atlantic flights.

Is this new aircraft the death knell finally for the 757?

Alaska Airlines first Boeing 737-900ER (N402AS) is seen at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Image from Alaska Airlines.

The 737-900ER is a popular choice as a longer-range aircraft to replace older 757s, but is it the right fit?  Photo: Alaska Airlines

We have looked multiple times at the differences between the 757 & the A321.  The two aircraft have always gone back and forth as apparent direct competitors and even the new 737-900ER, which seem to be extremely popular with airlines like Delta, Alaska or the Lion Air Group from Indonesia, can’t seem to replace the 757.

What keeps Boeing from producing a new aircraft to properly replace the 757?

A United 757-200 like this one is able to connect the East Coast of the USA with some parts of Europe - Photo: Mal Muir | AirlineReporter.com

A United 757-200 like this one (add winglets) is able to connect the east coast with some parts of Europe – Photo: Mal Muir

Boeing markets the 737-900ER as the current replacement for the 757, but it doesn’t quite fit.  It doesn’t have the range or uplift that the 757 has.  The 757-200W (which is a fancy name for a winglet-equipped aircraft) has a decent range.  US-based airlines that still fly them are using them more and more for either trans-con or trans-Atlantic services.

Take a look at the latest route offered by United.  It is flying from Newark to Newcastle in the UK.  The only way to make that flight viable would be with a narrowbody aircraft.  Using a 767 or even a 787 would be overkill.

But is the A321neoLR really a replacement to the 757?  Sure, it will now have as much range as a 757-200W, but it should be just shy of the capacity, with the new offering having around 164 seats in a standard 2-class lie-flat setup.

Obviously the commonality with the rest of the A320 family of aircraft is a benefit to carriers.  But is it enough?  It is an aircraft that is not slated for delivery until 2018 (if it gets any orders) and that is a long way off for folks limping their 752 fleets along.

In 2010, there was a perfect replacement for the 757 that was cancelled; the 787-3.  Sure it was designed to replace the 747-400D for use in the Japanese domestic market where they need short-haul, high-capacity aircraft, but it was perfect for the 757’s mission as well.

An artists impression of what the 787-3 would have looked like. Image: Wikimedia Commons

An artist’s impression of what the 787-3 would have looked like – Image: Wikimedia Commons

The 787-3 was a wide-body, medium-range aircraft.  It could hold 330 people in a high-density (Japan domestic) capacity and travel 3,500 nm.  If you look at the A321neo, that is pretty much the range it previously had, but with double the people.

Could Boeing take a 787-3 and redesign it to give it that extra bit of range, but with a roughly 200-person payload?  Would this be the new 757 replacement to give it something between the 737-900ER and the 787-8 (which was designed to replace the 767).  Is Boeing now forced to commit to a new project as they seem to be behind in the marketplace?

The Boeing 737 MAX8 in the teal Boeing livery. Image: Boeing

Is there a new 737 MAX version that could eat up that range difference? Image: Boeing

The whole situation revolves around a niche Boeing aircraft.  One that was good (and still is, to some extent).  But there is one underlying factor that hasn’t come to life here:  the 737 MAX.

The official range targets of the MAX have not yet been released.  However, the 737 MAX 8 should have a range estimate the same as the A321neo with a slightly lower pax payload.  So if they can do some nifty design changes to the MAX 9 maybe we will see a longer range version that could top out that 4000nm marker.  Or maybe Boeing has a 757 replacement in the works at their secret workshop.  It would unlikely be a clean-sheet model, but possibly something like the 757 MAX. As the 757s continue to age we will have to continue to see what aircraft will step up and replace these (almost) classic birds.

   Malcolm Muir – Managing Correspondent 

Mal is an Australian AvGeek now living and working in Seattle. With a passion for aircraft photography, traveling and the fun that combining the two can bring. Insights into the aviation world with a bit of a perspective thanks to working in the travel industry.

 @BigMalX | BigMal's World | Photos

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