Oct 21, 2013

Boeing 757 replacement? A380 stretch? More mixed signals

Airbus has imposed a constraint on itself in its A350 specifications, in which its standard nine across seating will be closely comparable to ten across in the A380 in economy on its lower deck. An 11 across A380 would be notably less amenable than a nine across A350, and a 10 across A350, which is inhumanely possible, would achieve equality of misery with a high density A380 and a nine seats across Boeing 787.

Ben Sandilands — Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands

Editor of Plane Talking

Boeing's 757 entered service in 1983, and has no exact modern counterpart: Wiki Commons

At the risk of being told to chew on a chill pill by Airbus and Boeing, there has been a lot of thoughtful but at times confusing analysis about their various plans for new versions of current or under test airliners recently , especially about a true replacement for the Boeing 757, as well as a major upgrade and stretch for the Airbus A380.

This is not just about Airbus v Boeing, but each company versus themselves in what PR managers are probably gnashing their teeth over as  ‘singing out of tune’ or something like that. As well as both airliner makers versus large rich customers making unreasonable demands about what they, the customer, dare to want guaranteed on engraved granite tablets in a performance contract.

The evidence for this is well pulled togther in two recent bulletins from Leeham News and Comment. Last week it dealt mainly with the hoary old chestnut of a 757 replacement.

That bulletin argued the case for a similar sized 757 replacement design.

Its main take away was:

The 737-9 doesn’t have the range, the field performance or the payload of the 757. Neither does the Airbus A321neo, although it is much better than the 737-9.

Entry-into-service for what we will dub the 757R is envisioned for 2025-2027, leaning toward the former.

However the later Leeham bulletin here, out today, interviews Airbus Americas chairman, Allan McArtor, who sees it very differently.

As for the prospect of a Boeing 757 replacement that would also mean replacing the Boeing 737-900ER/9 MAX and A321ceo/neo, McArtor doesn’t think a similarly sized replacement may make sense. Continued up-gauging trends may suggest the 757 replacement might well be a larger aircraft that falls to the A330-200 250-seater, he says.

Of course, this brings the market to the Boeing 787-8, but this plane has a range of 8,000nm vs the 4,000sm of the 757; and potentially an A330-200 Lite, a lighter gross weight/reduced thrust, shorter-range version of today’s A330-200 which has a range of 7,200nm. Some would suggest neither airplane is optimized to be a true 757 replacement, just as neither are the 737-900ER/9 nor the A321ceo/neo.

Also, by 2025, when a 757 replacement is envisioned, the A330-200 will be 30 years old, a design from the late 1980s/early 1990s, with an EIS of 1994.

“I think we can make incremental improvements to the A330 and probably keep the program going: a new engine, winglets, avionics,” McArtor said. “Personally I don’t think Boeing is ready to commit to a 757 replacement. I think they’d use the lower-end 787.”

McArtor has a point. The replacement for the Boeing 737-300 classic didn’t really turn out to be the similar sized 737-700, but the much larger 737-800.

But that’s not what is really intriguing in the interview.  McArtor used the term ‘new engine’ in relation to on going improvements to the A330, which is something AirAsia X founder Tony Fernades has been agitating for since 2011, and Airbus has been hosing down with cold water for the same period.

The A330 must be really annoying in Seattle. Its reliable, economical, flies high hours, and looks like it would obsolete the 787-8 with a new engine, except that it has been around since 1994, which is … despicable, if you are a Boeing executive.

McArtor also builds on the comments made by EADS CEO Tom Enders in Sydney a week ago, when he spoke of the A380 having its best days ahead of it. McArtor speaks warmly of a stretch of the A380, which will be a relief to those who were briefed in Toulouse in June this year on a ‘pack’ as in 11 abreast economy seating, as more likely than a stretch.

Airbus has made an interesting constraint for itself in its A350 specifications, in which its standard nine across seating will be closely comparable to ten across in the A380 in economy on its lower deck.   An 11 across A380 would be notably less amenable than a nine across A350, and a 10 across A350, which is inhumanely possible, would achieve equality of misery with a high density A380 and a nine seats across Boeing 787.

This makes every single word that senior managers in Boeing and Airbus say worth really close attention. They seem, if you read the two Leehams carefully, to be moving away from the more rigid positions they were taking earlier this year.


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22 thoughts on “Boeing 757 replacement? A380 stretch? More mixed signals

  1. Dan Dair

    Whilst this is an interesting & entertaining article, it is in some respects a bit of speculation, based on someone else’s speculation.

    The one thing which jumped out at me was the idea that an A330, re-engined & with improved aerodynamics could be a B787 killer.
    I would assume that despite the upgrades, the 20yo production line would still produce that aircraft at a much better price than Boeing are currently asking for a 787.
    The question would then be how the improved 330 stacked up economically against the running costs of the 787.

    Is it really possible that the 787 could be a dud.?
    I can’t remember a new plane that’s had such a miserable introduction into service. (Though, it has to be said that with the advent of mobile camera/phones & the internet, problems are more easily brought into the public eye now than they ever used to be)

    Ben had a rant last week about the amount of lies & mis-truths told by Boeing during the development of the 787.
    Some joker talked about the ‘worlds most expensive cargo aircraft’ during the battery fire problems.

    Is there a generally accepted cut-off point beyond which airlines, or their engineering departments are going to say “you know, this airframe just doesn’t seem worth the trouble”.?
    And would we only ever find out that such a point had been reached if orders start to be cancelled.?

    I’m just speculating & definitely not trying to imply that I have an axe to grind or any inside information at all.

    I would be interested in informed responses on the questions though, even purely speculative ones.

  2. johnb78

    I can’t remember a new plane that’s had such a miserable introduction into service.

    This is exactly why I hope Ben keeps this gig up for many years to come, as a man who can remember such things 🙂

    AFAICS, the 787 rollout looks less bad in retrospect than the DC10 rollout and not much worse than the A320 rollout (eg the 787 hasn’t killed anyone). But this is based on old news stories and books, plus the memories of friends & family, not on having been an adult following it at the time.

    The 787 rollout is definitely better than the Comet 1 rollout or the Tristar rollout, but that’s a lower bar.

  3. Dan Dair

    I remember the 1988 Paris air show crash of the original A320.
    I don’t remember anything else relating to that a/c except the problems with pilots not operating the computer systems properly, so the aircraft did ‘mad stuff’ due to the ‘wrong’ flight settings being in place.?
    I remember the DC10 crashes, but they were well into it’s service life & related to a specific problem with the rear cargo door locks.
    I can’t think of anything significant with the Tristars that wasn’t pilot error related.
    As for the original Comets…..
    The cutting-edge technology was 6 years ahead of Boeing & worked fine in service for 6-12 months before a previously unknown metal fatigue condition was discovered which meant the original airframe design was fatally compromised. (It’s not exactly a development or introduction issue is it.?)

    If I’ve misunderstood or mis-interpreted, please elaborate for me & I can follow-up your pointers to find out more.

  4. Ben Sandilands

    That was the Mulhouse-Habshein crash.

    The A320 made a low run past the air show venue with the aircraft in basic manual control. Shortly afterwards it struck a young growth pine plantation and was destroyed before multiple cameras in a fireball from which, amazingly all but three people of the 136 onboard escaped.

    There is an awfully large amount of conspiracy theory dribble on the web about the crash.

    A fairly accurate entry can be found in Wikipedia here:

    Before the captain was jailed for manslaughter Paris Match magazine carried an account of what was alleged to have been recorded on the CVR (the real one) in which he allegedly said “This will give …… a person at Air France … a hard on.”

    I think the fact that the jet was flown less than 10 metres above the ground when it was directed not to descend below 30 metres clearance is telling, as is the case for visual confusion in which the cockpit view may have tricked the crew into thinking that the pine plantation directly ahead of them comprised mature trees some distance away, and not young trees too close at hand for recovery.

    It is sobering to reflect that the flight plan intention following the Mulhouse-Habsheim flypast was to buzz the summit of Mont Blanc. Having seen as a climber the aftermath of the Air-India 707 crash below the summit on the Bosses arete (Rochers de La Tournette junction) the risk of this flight joining those tragic traces of embedded metal could have been very high.

  5. StickShaker

    “….The A330 must be really annoying in Seattle. Its reliable, economical, flies high hours, and looks like it would obsolete the 787-8 with a new engine, except that it has been around since 1994, which is … despicable, if you are a Boeing executive.”…

    That’s a superb piece of prose there Ben.

    The mention of a new engine for the 330 is the first ever officially uttered by Airbus – up until now they have strenuously denied it was under consideration preferring incremental (ie cheap) upgrades to that platform. The reasons given have always been cost which largely centers around significant structural modifications required to cope with the heavier modern engines. These modifications include strengthening the wing, center wing box and main undercarriage which would push the cost up to several billion dollars.
    To recoup that significant R&D would require increasing prices which would erode one of the main sources of competitive advantage for the 330 – the other being availability.

    If Airbus are considering such a move it suggests that they recognise that there is a future for the 8 abreast cross section which occupy’s territory that Boeing doesn’t (in terms of cross section as the 787 has morphed into a 9 abreast aircraft).

    I see a 330 “lite” as replacing not just the 757 but also the A310 and A300 segment. An A310 sized aircraft (200-220 seats in 2 classes) would be sufficiently small not to be threatened by the 787-8 which is not only much larger but carries extra structural weight to achieve its long range.
    I have always thought that the 330 (and the 8 abreast cross section) deserved better than to be abandoned in favour of the larger 350.

  6. patrick kilby

    In note that Icelandic Air which has all (about 15) 757s has gone to 737-9 Max will enable it to do all it currently does (ex Reykavik)with perhaps the exception of the US West Coast and the US deep south. As a niche airline all it wants is one type that can hub from the US to Scandinavia, and a 787/330 is too big.

  7. Theoddkiwi

    “I can’t remember a new plane that’s had such a miserable introduction into service.”

    In 1994 Airbus crashed and destroyed an A330 early on in testing killing all 7 on board, that’s about as rough as you would want to get with out killing paying passengers. But as you say there was significantly less public coverage of such incidents in. I certainly didn’t know about that until recently as much I have followed aviation since I was a kid.

    Can you imagine how the media and public would have reacted if that had happened with the 787 even if it was a test flight mishap rather than a failure of the aircraft design..

    While it might be possible that improvements to the current A330 will make it better over the years, that assumes the 787 won’t be improved, which surely it can and will. Hell even the 737 is constantly being improved and made more efficient.

  8. Ben Sandilands

    In the history of larger airliners I’m aware of the crash under testing of a Boeing 707, similar to the shorter fuselage -138 introduced by Qantas and also used by Western Airlines and perhaps others, and a BAC 1-11, which was captured on a very confronting newsreel report of those days. The 707 came down near an aunt’s home in Seattle. There were survivors in the 707 crash, something like three out of six. The jet had been flown outside its intended envelope in a barrel roll, and during which some of the engines came off the when the struts failed as they were in fact intended to do under extreme loading in order to reduce the stress on the wing.

    UPDATING this. The data base shows that the Seattle crash occurred on a training flight for a jet to be delivered to Braniff, and it was preceded by an American Airlines crash in a familiarisation flight for pilots in a longer fuselage or standard 707. The AA flight was filmed entering a banking turn after lift off but one that continued until the jet slips out of control into the turn and hits the ground.

  9. Ronnie Moore

    This 757 trail is perhaps the result of a unique Boeing aircraft that perhaps is not likely to be repeated. Why? Because the 757 has performance to spare, and is therefore used to some of the most challenging airports (e.g. hot and high, short runway). It has capacity to enable some efficiency but not always the best seat mile costs. It will probably not be directly replaced. In the cold light of airline planning, why wouldn’t they fly a 737 mostly/entirely full vs some sort of opportunity cost to run a 757 with more passengers some of the time. Interesting route planning conundrum. Not the preference for those trying to make reliable profit-making schedules these days. More the realm of the old culture before the fill-em-up 737 and A320 operators arrived on the scene.

  10. keesje

    I think, just like a A350-1100, an A322 isn’t that far away. Airbus denies, until they don’t.

    Pratt says the GTF for the NEO can be scaled up to 40.000 lbs, up 20%.

    Airbus certified a bigger A320 double bogey landing gear long ago for AirIndia.

    A 10-20% bigger wing providing lift and fuel stowage would be the biggest investment.

    Not a major challenge IMO.

    Apart from the 757, The 767-200, -300, A300, A310 and Tu154 operate(d) intra Asia, US transcon, EMEA and charters markets. Several thousand aircraft.

  11. FlyLo


    Just back of the envelope stuff, but from my calculations there seems little to differentiate nine across seating on an A350 versus a Boeing 787.

    The cabin width of an A350 (5.61m) is only twelve centimetres wider than a 787 (5.49m). Spread across nine seats and two aisles the difference per seat will be just over a centimetre.

    I calculate nine across seating on an A350 (cabin width 5.61m) to be comparable with eleven across seating on an A380 lower deck (cabin width 6.54m). By my calculations, ten across on an A380 is comparable to eight across on a 787.

    The 787 with eight across is even more generous than seven across seating on a 767 (cabin width 4.7m) and eight across seating on an A330 (cabin width 5.28m) but no customers other than JAL and ANA have configured 787s this way.

    Both the 787 and A350 with nine across seating will feel much more squeezed than a nine across 777 (cabin width 5.86m). A ten across 777 has less room than either a nine across A350 or 787.

    An A350 with ten across seating would be the equivalent of a 767 with eight across seating, which is even more squeezed than a 777 with ten across seating. I only know of charter airlines flying 767s with eight across.

    So the trend for less room with both the 787 and A350 programs is clear. Make the most of seven across 767s, eight across A330s, nine across 777s and ten across A380s while they last!

  12. FlyLo

    I forgot Tony Fernandes already puts nine across seating on Air Asia X A330s which by my reckoning is as squeezy as ten across seating on a 777 (as currently configured by Emirates, Air France, Air New Zealand, Austrian and doubtless many other airlines).

    A comparison of nine across configurations:

    A330 Cabin width 5.28m (Air Asia X)
    B787 Cabin width 5.49m (Jetstar and most 787 operators)
    A350 Cabin width 5.61m (standard airbus configuration)
    B777 Cabin width 5.86m (most 777 operators)

    A comparison of ten across configurations:

    B777 Cabin width 5.86m (Emirates, Air NZ, Air France etc.)
    B747 Cabin width 6.10m (every operator)
    A380 Cabin width 6.54m (every operator – for now)

    In descending order, the roomiest planes are the ten across A380 followed by the eight across 787 as flown by JAL and ANA. In third place is the nine across 777.

    For all their doubtless technical accomplishments, the 787 and A350 in nine across seating usher in a new era of more cramped cabin interiors!

  13. keesje

    FlyLo, I guess you have to remove 40 inch (101.6 cm, 2 aisles of 20 inch= required minimum)) of those cabins and then divide them by the number of seats.

    So for A350:

    ——— = 0.506 m per seat

    for 787:

    ——— = 0.492 m per seat

    So nearly 1.5 cm. Which isn’t a lot when seats are wide, passengers lean and the flight short. But they aren’t..

  14. FlyLo


    That is exactly what I did. I make it a difference of 1.33cm per seat.

    I think you incorrectly used 1.06 in your formula instead of 1.016 (the width of the aisles).

    You’ll note the 777 with ten across seating (48.44) has narrower seating than a nine across 787 (49.71) but Emirates, Air NZ, Air France, Austrian (and others) seems to have little difficulty filling them although I won’t be flying in them!

    For completeness, here is the summary I prepared:

    B737 Cabin width 353 Seats 6 Seat width 50.37
    A320 Cabin width 370 Seats 6 Seat width 53.20

    B767 Cabin width 470 Seats 7 Seat width 52.63
    B767 Cabin width 470 Seats 8 Seat width 46.05

    A330 Cabin width 528 Seats 8 Seat width 53.30
    A330 Cabin width 528 Seats 9 Seat width 47.38

    B787 Cabin width 549 Seats 8 Seat width 55.93
    B787 Cabin width 549 Seats 9 Seat width 49.71

    A350 Cabin width 561 Seats 9 Seat width 51.04
    A350 Cabin width 561 Seats 10 Seat width 45.94

    B777 Cabin width 586 Seats 9 Seat width 53.82
    B777 Cabin width 586 Seats 10 Seat width 48.44

    B747 Cabin width 610 Seats 10 Seat width 50.84

    A380 Cabin width 654 Seats 10 Seat width 55.24
    A380 Cabin width 654 Seats 11 Seat width 50.22

  15. Frequent Traveller

    attn FlyLo, re A320 : 370 cm (= 145.6″) is the current (post-A320 Series Enhanced Interior) trim-to-trim cabin width @ arm-rest level … after apprx. 1 full inch was lost to better sonic/thermal cabin insulation from the ‘original’ A320 spec; but you’ll need to deduct anyway, the outer armrest-to-wallpanel installation clearances (of twice 0.7″ = 1.4″ in the A320) … so the ‘net’ available difference, ie # 144″, gives room for eg 2 x 62″ triples (each with three seat cushions of 18″) plus an aisle of 20″. This remark just so that we don’t forget to take into account the wall clearances in our comparisons.

  16. Frequent Traveller

    Strictly, for eg the 757, the calculation is 139.2″ minus twice 0.6″ (wall clearances) = (net) 138″ = 59″ + 20″ + 59″ CQFD.

    The infamed ‘757 syndrome’ gets under your skin when contemplating 38+ rows of [3+3] in line, spaced 30″ or less apart … when replacing the 757, the priority should focus on how best to quickly eradicate that ‘757 syndrome’ both from the skies and from the airport landscape !

  17. FlyLo

    Frequent Traveller,

    Thanks for the A320 info. Even with your allowance for wall panel installation clearance, the average seat width on an A320 is still 52.61cm (20.71″), substantially more roomy than a 737 cabin (50.37cm or 19.38″).

    I find the difference in cabin width quite noticeable when travelling on these aircraft.

    Doesn’t the 737 have the same fuselage width as the 707 which first flew on 20 December 1957!

    According to the Boeing website, the 757 cabin is an identical width to the 737.

    I always found the 757 much more comfortable to travel in than a 737 because it had four pairs of ground level doors breaking up the rows of seats (and providing excellent exit row seats). It also meant the toilets were not just at the very back and front of the plane. There was a greater feeling of space because of the room around the exit doors.

    By contrast, the 737 with two pairs of doors (front and rear) and four over wing plug hatches means that there is an uninterrupted row of seats from the front to the back of the plane. It’s a long walk to the toilet and having to negotiate a narrow single aisle the full length of the plane means moving about in-flight is much more difficult as you are bound to encounter someone with a trolley coming the other way.

    This is especially so in the 737-800 or 737-900ER both with such long fuselages.

    For the same reason I prefer flying on the A321 in preference to the A320.

  18. Frequent Traveller

    You are quite right, FlyLo : the production blueprints for early 707 S/Ns were frozen back somewhere in … 1953 ??, well sixty years ago. As a cross-section, simply from the anthropometric or sociological viewpoint, it’s an obsolete design. Boeing could, though, revitalize the 757, calling these aircraft home for a face-lift to H5XQR Series, with Premium [1+2+1] and Y-class [1+3+1]. The cabin refurbish would be a kick in the anthill, boosting residual values !

  19. Frequent Traveller

    I’ve seen somewhere that the OWE of a 757-200 is apprx. 58 m.tonnes … if revamped to H52QR MAX (cabin refurbish + engine change to GTF or LEAP ?), the OWE would drop apprx. 4 m.t to 54 t, whilst with the same mission fuel, range would increase 22 % vs RB211. Now we may apply these thoroughly revamped aircraft to the same routes as A321 or 739. MTOW may be reset to just over 100 m.tonnes instead of 116 m.tonnes today, so with just another 3,500 lbf of additional MAX power setting, we’d have a competitive and well-performing feeder (including TO perfo, with the high lift wing of the 757), with 200 – 240 seats and with quite efficient airport turn-arounds, with EIS 2017 ? : food for thought for Boeing/Zodiac + the right engine OEM ? To get the next A321 NEO or 739 MAX newbuild, you’d have to wait till 2020 anyway, whilst there are 1030 units 757 flying out there NOW ! Says Sir Richard Branson : “Just DO it !”

  20. Dan Dair

    F T,
    That sounds like a great plan.
    Doesn’t it make you wish you had the money to consider buying-up the low hours/cycles airframes & actually making it happen.?
    (or maybe you do & you’re just looking for us to run a critical eye over the plan.?)

  21. Frequent Traveller

    There is an IP claim entered with Boeing’s Legal Counsels covering the application of the HQR concept to Boeing products … the claim is based on the ‘squatting principle’, of a Trade Secret = a patrimonial right, left in total abandon over 60 years or more than two human generations since the original 707 production blueprints : the rights of Boeing to this idea (if ever any ?) are forclosed … let Boeing pick up the hint and run the project, they’ll come around to smoking the pow-pow ?

  22. Joe Smith

    “Thanks for the A320 info. Even with your allowance for wall panel installation clearance, the average seat width on an A320 is still 52.61cm (20.71″), substantially more roomy than a 737 cabin (50.37cm or 19.38″).” – Frequent Traveller

    These dimensions are not possible with 6 abreast seating and a typical minimum aisle width, for either airplane.

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