US Airways’ 757 problem

Notation: Lan Chile has canceled Boeing 787 flights through June.

US Airways has a large fleet of aging Boeing 757s it needs to replace. The problem is, a carrier official says, neither the Airbus A321neo nor the Boeing 737-9 MAX can do what needs to be done: Phoenix-Hawaii non-stop in both directions with maximum payload under all conditions.

The distance is 2,910 miles, well within the advertised range of 4,200 miles for the A321neo and 4,137 for the 9 MAX. But Derek Kerr, executive vice president and chief financial officer says fleet planners have yet to be convinced either plane can replace the 757W, which is uniquely able to handle the hot, summer conditions at Phoenix, where temperatures often soar to 110F degrees or more.

US Airways is one of only two legacy airlines in the US that has yet to order the MAX or the NEO (Delta Air Lines is the other). A year ago, US Airways CEO Doug Parker told us that the value proposition of ordering the neo still was unconvincing given the price premium sought by Airbus. Kerr told us last week that the large, outstanding order for the current generation A320 family as replacements for the oldest jets–and the lack of a true replacement for the 757–meant the airline wasn’t in a hurry to place an order for re-engined aircraft.

The merger with American Airlines, which should be consummated in the third quarter, brings with it orders for more than 400 MAX, neo and current generation A320 and 737 aircraft. Kerr says these are all replacements for American’s aging fleet and the orders will be retained. American affirmed these orders in bankruptcy court.

“The plan right now is not to change either orders, although we may change some to right-size them,” Kerr told us. “We’ll replace all older [US Airways] aircraft by 2015. US Air. The 757s still uncertain. We’re still trying to get the 321neo to go from Phoenix to Honolulu. It needs a bit more legs.”

Over at American, Kerr says most orders are to replace MD80s; no growth is planned. “The plan would be to continue all the orders and see if it is the right mix of 19s/20s/21s and 700/800/900 [and MAXes].”

Kerr says the merged fleets will allow US Airways A319s to enter American’s system where needed if analysis supports this. Accordingly, some of American’s A319ceo orders might be upgraded to larger sub-types.

US Airways is one of the remaining customers for the Airbus A350-800. Airbus has been converting -800 customers to the larger -900, which has a promised entry-into-service date of mid-2014. Some customers we’ve talked to believe EIS will be closer to the end of the year. With pressure on the program–including the decision to drop the lithium-ion batteries in the wake of the Boeing 787 issues and swap to nickel-cadium batteries–resources are concentrating on the -900 and its first flight, perhaps in June. Airbus wants to de-risk the program by switching customers to the -900 and relieving pressure on the engineers and supply chain.

Kerr acknowledged Airbus wants US Airways to switch. The airline has the -800 and the -900 on order and he said it plans to take both. “They want to build 900/1000/800 [in that order, vs the planned -900/800/1000 sequence]. Under a stand-alone US Airways, the -800 works better for us but under American Airlines, the -900 may be better.”

30 Comments on “US Airways’ 757 problem

  1. The combined fleet for AA and US is over 900 airplanes. Once the carrier is completely merged under the AA name, they won’t need that number of airplanes. They will need somewhere from the mid 600s to low 700s in total airtplane numbers, so US does not have to order anything, right now. They will eventually have to place an order for about 200 NB airplanes, what that will be is anyone’s guess right now.

    The need for a true B-757 replacement airplaneis not unique to US. AA, DL, UA, and some EU based airlines need it too. It is clear the A-321NEO, nor the B-737-9MAX are true replacements, even though both OEMs claim their airplane can do “95% of the B-757 missions”. If that were true, you would see A-321s and B-737-900ERs flying today from California to Hawaii (nor do you see any A-320s flying this missions, but the B-737-800 does). The A-321 cannot do that mission, nor can it fly TATL missions. Moving even a little east of California, like to PHX or LAS, makes the missions to Hawaii even less likely with the A-321NEO. So, in reality the A-321NEO and B-737-9MAX can only fly about 75% to 80% of all B-757-200W missions.

    The A-321, even the NEO version cannot be made to complete all B-757 missions because of its stubby wings and the airframe is at about the max weight for the A-32X airframe. Combine these two realities together and you get a new airframe that must be build, and then you need a new, more efficent engine.

    But, neither OEM is interested in building a true replacement for the B-757. That is because there is a market for only about 200-300 airplanes, not enough to generate a reasonable ROI. What sold the B-757 in big numbers during the first decade or so of its life was the B-757 was a true B-707 and DC-8 replacement, at least through the mid-range of 200 pax out to about 3500 nm. The rest of the B-707s and DC-8 were replaced by the DC-10 and the L-1011.

  2. I guess the A321 NEO and 767 are the closest aircraft available as 757 replacements. The A321 carries more further then the 737-9i, that also has a serious runway lenght restriction.

    As KCT notices the A321/737-9 still lack the required range with a serious payload, headwinds, hot, short runways and diversion reserves. That also restricts its use as e.g. 757 replacement transatlantic. IMO for the A321 its wing is the limitation. How much would it costs to beef up the wingbox, landing and make a bigger wing with bigger fuel tanks.. E3 Billion? 
    (Just a quick & dirty. Pratt says the GTF can go to 40k lbs, A320 double MLG is already in use, sufficient tail clearance could be part of the wing redesign).

    How large is short/ medium range 200-270 seat, 767, A300, 757, A310, Tu154 replacement market.. 2000 in the next 15 yrs? Intra Asia, Transcon, leisure come to mind. Problem is the long haul 787 and A330 are twice as heavy and expensive to operate.. 

    Lets not focus on 757 replacement only and say that one went out of production for reason.  As KTC says, the market is much larger and airlines want it, but there is nothing on offer. A and B know, that’s why Airbus is pushing a 235 seat A321 and Boeing studying an aircraft for this medium segment.

  3. Other options might be the 737-8 Max or A320 NEO. They would be smaller than ideal but if the extra range is enough to get them to their destination, these planes would be more cost-effective than sticking with the 757.

  4. The only question as far as I’m concerned, is there a need for a wing sized between the 320/737 and the 787? I think the answer is yes. Then it is just a question of what fuselage to attach it to. 3-3, 2-2-2, 2-3-2, or 2-4-2. I say 777x, boring, build the new small medium airplane.

    • Interestingly, Airbus has got an A310-sized wing already in production; namely the wing of the A400M. Interestingly, as well, the upper half of the A400M fuselage has a cross section of 222 inches; thus it’s derived from the A300/A330 fuselage. 😉

      So, if you put the existing A400M wing, centre wing box and the wing-fuselage fairing on a shortened A330 fuselage (including the empennage/tail section), using a BAe-146 -type MLG and a shortened nose landing gear, you would have something that would bridge “the gap” between the A321neo and the A332/A358.

      If potential customers would rather prefer a non-turboprop option, Airbus could conceivably redesign the wing and put 4 GTF engines on the wing. For this to happen, leading edge wing slats would have to be put on, while the flaps could “return” to being single slotted. Perhaps, a twin version could be an option as well.

      • While we are in speculation mode, I was intrigued that P&W are in talks to place a version of their GTF engine on the A350-800 and -900. Do you think the same engine could be used to re-engine the A330? I understand one of the difficulties of re-engining this plane is that the the latest engines from Rolls Royce and GE are too heavy for the wings. But perhaps a lower thrust GTF might fit?

      • Yes, in speculation mode we are. 🙂

        What needs to be done IMO in regard to a re-engined A330, is for Airbus to re-optimise the aircraft for the ranges that currently are available for the 235 tonne MTOW version. Putting a substantially more efficient state-of-the-art engine would increase range by about 10 percent. But more range is not what is needed since the A350-800/900 will be offering even better payload/range capability than what any re-engined A330 could provide.

        First, the maximum fuel volume in the wing was essentially designed to cater to the requirements for the A340-300. Hence the current wing is much too voluminous fuel volume-wise. The centre wing box is the equivalent of 10 fuselage frames; or 5,35 m (210 inches). If Airbus reduced the size of the centre wing box by, say 4 frames (from the forward spar), and redesigned the wings with an A380-type tapering from the engines to the centre wing box, the maximum fuel volume could be reduced by more than one third. Much less fuel volume and removal of the centre spar as well, would mean that a significant weight reduction could be achieved on the existing wing. In short, the wing would be re-engineered and re-optimised for a lighter MTOW, while the leading and trailing edges could be kept as they are.

        Now, if the MTOW would be reduced by say, 30 tonnes, while maintaining the current payload/range capability, thrust requirements could be reduced to around 60000 lbs for a state-of-the-art GTF engine. The weight of such an engine would be significantly less than one that is optimised for 84000 pounds of thrust. Hence, using the A350 engine(s) on a re-engined is a non-starter.

        • Any version of the A-330 would be too big for a B-757 replacement. US does have the A-330 in its fleet and doesn’t use them on B-757 missions. About the closest airplane design would be the B-767-200ER, which can still be ordered, or a B-767-2C version. The A-310-300 is also a good fit, but it is no longer in production and more are find their way to the boneyard each year. These are the only (current) airplanes that can fully fit within the long range B-757 missions.

      • Maybe the 762 is still on Boeing’s price list, but I believe no airline has ordered it for some 15 years. So it’s not likely to be a viable choice.

        The A332 is only about 20-25% bigger by seat count than the 752. The dual-aisle configuration allows faster turnarounds, too. I’m curious as to how much higher the (total, not per-seat) A332 operating cost is compared to the 752 — does anyone have numbers for this?

  5. The 737 or the A321 do not have the short field performance the 757 has. The 757 does transcons off orange county’s 5700 foot runway.its in a class by itself.

    • There is no perfect replacement for those long-haul, short-runway 752 missions. And it’s a small enough niche that it doesn’t make sense for Airbus or Boeing to build a specialized aircraft for those.

      So airlines can keep their 752s flying for a while. For long-haul they can choose a 739, an A321 or A332, depending on the route. For short runways there is the CS300. For long-haul short runway … maybe nothing. Then it will be up to the airport to extend those runways if they want to keep their long-haul routes.

      And in the end that will be cheaper and faster than designing a bespoke plane for that <1% of all routes that cannot be satisfied by Airbus's and Boeing's current offerings.

  6. As Steve says there is no replacement for the 757 either current or proposed….and too small a market for either A or B to develop an airplane to fill this niche. Here at AA the word on the street is that we’ll keep 30-40 757’s for the long term to serve such markets as LaPaz, Quito, Tegucigalpa, Eagle, Orange County, Jackson Hole, Bogota, Gunnison, Guatamala City et al…and Phoenix-Hawaii fits right into that fleet mix….i guess we’ll see what Doug Parker has to say on the issue.

  7. kc135topboom :
    But, neither OEM is interested in building a true replacement for the B-757. That is because there is a market for only about 200-300 airplanes, not enough to generate a reasonable ROI. What sold the B-757 in big numbers during the first decade or so of its life was the B-757 was a true B-707 and DC-8 replacement, at least through the mid-range of 200 pax out to about 3500 nm. The rest of the B-707s and DC-8 were replaced by the DC-10 and the L-1011.

    Is the 200-300 projection on just passenger aircraft, freighter, or both together? Just amazing to me that an aircraft that sold over 1,000 units in the past can’t find a market now for a replacement in adequate numbers to make it worthwhile for aircraft manufacturers. I guess no one is in the market to replace 757’s with Tu-204 / Tu-214 aircraft. 😉

  8. There is a tendency to Pavlov back this topic to replacing the 757 at the Atlantic.

    Which is non-sense IMO you can’t simply ignore the 767, A300, A310, Tu154, Intra Asia, Leisure, Transcon, Caribbean, EMEA big citypair markets in the US, Europe and Asia.

    Looking at Airbus and Boeing forecasts there is a significant market (thousands) for the next 20 yrs if you take a good chunk out of the long NB and small twin aisle forecasts. And either Airbus, Boeing or both will respond when they have the resources.

    Re runway performance I posted a question on pprune to get some useful comparions:

  9. Assuming a 2700 NM flight + reserves and 200 passengers @ 100 kg (20t payload) and 25-30 C airfield temperature, all aircraft with the most powerfull engines, the 757-200 needs 2440 m runway, the A321 (close to MTOW) needs some more (2500-2600m).

    The 737-900ER seems unable to take 200 passengers that far. Off loading 14k lbs payload (>50 passengers) the required runway length still seems to go over 3500m /11.000ft, limited by tire speed..

    The A321 and 737-900ER both can’t replace the 757-200. However that doesn’t mean the 737-900ER and A321 offer similar performance at the top of their payload-range & runway length performance.

  10. The dip in orders after 9-11 killed the 757, the same airlines complaining now turned down an offer to buy more 752s. Short term thinking hurts in the end.

    The 757 is one of a kind, a medium range, shortfield NB with decent amount of seats, the only drawback is that it is from 1982, with GTF engines it would shine even today.

  11. And its the absolute worst airplane to ride in coach. Hope it goes away soon.

    • I ridden the 757 from the US to LIS,BRU,and AMS. I liked it just fine. Some seats are better than others, exit rows the best. Bulkhead seats and rear non reclining seats not so good.

  12. Could there be a potential business case to reengine late model 757s with GTF if PW came out with a 43K version (they claim it has scaleability)? In the early eighties just over 100 DC-8s were reengined, most only to fly as freighters. If there was a program for maybe 200 aircraft, reducing fuel burn by at least 15%?

    • We’ve talked to a company several times that attempted over several years to get a “757G” program going. The company could not interest Boeing and without Boeing’s technical support, a successful launch would be problematic. We’ve written before that Boeing has the New Small Airplane (737 replacement) and the New Airplane Study (757 replacement) going on, though neither is launchable any time soon-especially with the 787 issues on the table and the priorities being the 787-10 and 777X.

      PW certainly could design a 43k thrust GTF but there isn’t a business case for the 757G.

  13. If there was an engine available already, maybe. I don’t think there is a business case to design a completely new engine, would cost too much. There is no state-of-the-art 40 klbf engine around I do not think.

    I think B is better off making a new model altogether. Or A for that matter.

    • Have you been talking to Mary Kirby about your Greenliner concept?

      Why not do a re-engine on the A340-200/300 with the GTF using the current 33,000 lbs engine? An A330-200 with major weight reductions for up to 4,000nm routes with the A340-200 wing and GTF engines will be very competitive. Imagine the cargo capacity without the centre tank.

      • Otis, that Greenliner, must be years ago.. On GTF’s on the A340, compare the empty weights of the A343 and A333. Personally the A340 are one of my favourites as a passenger, no ETOPS, wide 6 / 8 abreast seats, very quiet cabin. Great cargo capability too, but a new heavy aircraft with 4 engines would be a hard sell..

  14. What makes the 757 unique is having too much power under its wings, wasteful but very useful in the named situations. Without it you have to take serious weight penalty or going bigger and more powerful with a frame you will not fill. Its that irritating rash, it will always show up but not very often..

    • I’m no expert on this topic, but it seems to me that if you needed the power for short fields or hot and high you could send a 773ER to do the job, and simple keep the weight within limits.

      Yes, that involves compromise, but I’m if you buy enough airframes either OEM would likely be able offer you lease conditions that avoid having to build an entirely new aircraft for a small number of routes.

      • Airbus has a great platform in the A321, going the whole hog, bigger cfrp wings, stronger LG higher thrust GTFs, a weapon against the 788 in the future. It would certainly beat the 788 economics up to a certain range and seat load. It could also do the hot and high routes that are common between south and north america.

        It would probably not even have to add any weight to its 48t if you put a state of the art wing on it and the thrust is possible with the current GTF core. No weight penalty for the 752 routes currently flown and economics way better.

        Despite being from 1982 some TATL routes are still economical with the 752, even if WBs are more modern in any way, that tells me long and thin is a niche bigger than just TATL or TCON. 200 seats and 10 hours.

  15. I just went to Google, Images and searched A350 USAirways and one picture showed an A350 in USAirways Tail Colors? Does that mean there is a -900 Version already being built? I thought the timeline was 2017?

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