Boeing feels heat to come up with 757 successor
Chicago-based Boeing Co. faces fresh pressure to devise a replacement for its discontinued 757 jetliner, favored by U.S. carriers for trans-Atlantic flying, as American Airlines studies a new Airbus Group NV model as an alternative.
American's interest in a long-range A321neo signals that Boeing may have to speed planning for a new 757 version, said Richard Aboulafia, an analyst at consultant Teal Group. Already trailing Airbus in narrow-body sales, Boeing can't afford to see airlines go to its rival for a 757 successor, Aboulafia said.
"If Boeing does nothing and Airbus is alone in that class, you could see a pretty good chunk of orders going to the long- range A321," Aboulafia said in a phone interview from Fairfax, Virginia. He estimated that Airbus may sell more than 1,000 of the jets, including conversions of existing plane deals.
Boeing's 757 once dominated the niche for planes that could fly cross-country routes and make over-ocean flights between secondary markets with too little traffic for a larger jet. While Chicago-based Boeing took the aircraft out of production a decade ago, hundreds remain in service. It seats 200 to 243 people in a two-class cabin.
Airbus has won 724 orders for the A321neo, to 286 sales for Boeing's similar 737 Max 9. American, the world's biggest airline, is the first carrier to confirm interest in Airbus's proposal for an enhanced variant of the planemaker's largest upgraded narrow-body.
American Airlines Group Inc. is evaluating "the economics and the range and performance capabilities of the long-range version of the A321neo," Peter Warlick, vice president of fleet planning, said in an Oct. 30 newsletter for employees of the Fort Worth, Texas-based company.
That craft would have extra fuel tanks to boost its range by about 100 nautical miles past the 3,900 nautical miles (7,222 kilometers) of Boeing's 757-200, said Mary Anne Greczyn, an Airbus spokeswoman. The jet would burn about 25 percent less fuel than the older Boeing, she said.
"I cannot speak on behalf of what American is considering, but Airbus is actively discussing an A321neo long-range development with our customers," Greczyn said by email. Additional fuel capacity "will give the A321neo a significant range increase, overtaking the 757 currently operating on the trans-Atlantic."
Airbus would assemble the plane on Boeing's home turf, using the company's first U.S. plant, in Mobile, Alabama.
Boeing has been studying designing a new jetliner that could fly 4,000-nautical mile missions, Chief Executive Officer Jim McNerney told investors in May, without committing to a plane.
The jet would borrow from the 737, Boeing's best-selling narrow-body, as well as the larger, composite-plastic 787 Dreamliner, while filling the size gap between the two aircraft families. A high-density version of the 737 Max will seat 200 people, while the 787-8 seats 242.
"We have in-depth knowledge of the midmarket segment due to the significant installed 757 base," Doug Alder, a Boeing spokesman, said by email. "We continue to study this niche segment to identify product alternatives that are right for our customers and right for Boeing. There is no timeline."
American is joining Delta and United in moving to larger aircraft in both its regional and primary jet fleets. Spokesmen for all three airlines declined to comment on the long-haul version of the A321. U.S. carriers were the biggest customers for the 757.
American has 100 jets on order from Airbus's A320neo family among the new aircraft for its short- and medium-range fleet, and hasn't given a breakdown on what models it plans to take. The A320neo is due to enter service in 2015.
Delta is retiring older 757s and its Boeing 767-300s flown on domestic routes, and replacing them with Boeing 737-900ERs and the current version of the A321. The carrier plans to retain newer 757s for an unspecified time.
United, the world's second-largest airline, is also getting rid of its older 757s. It has been buying Max 9s and 737-900ERs, said Megan McCarthy, a spokeswoman.