Should Boeing Have Released A New 757?

Boeing ended production of the 757 in 2004, but didn't replace the aircraft. As the market evolved the company faced competition from Airbus and the A321neo, therefore, should it have built a new 757?

The Boeing 757, a workhorse of the aviation industry for decades, has faced a problem recently. As market demands have shifted, Boeing has found itself in a sticky spot without a dedicated replacement.

Therefore, would a re-engine of the 757 and re-release in some manner be what the plane maker would require to get back into the space? Or is the reality that too many obstacles prevent them from doing this?

The 757’s Legacy and Market Evolution

The Boeing 757, first introduced in the early 1980s, carved a niche as a versatile and fuel-efficient narrow-body aircraft. Its unique capabilities, such as its transatlantic range, made it a favourite among airlines.

However, production of the 757 ceased in 2004, which is hard to believe now, approaching some two decades ago. With production ending, it left a void in the market. Arguably, a gap that would only begin to hurt Boeing many years later.

Following Boeing’s decision in 2004, there was an evolution in the market, particularly in the middle sector. This led to a surge in demand for aircraft with capacities and range capabilities falling between traditional narrow and widebody aircraft.

Airlines wanted a versatile solution for routes slotting in the medium-haul segment, giving rise to the “middle of the market” concept. Ideally, this would be a plane capable of achieving a lot for a company without the complexities of a widebody or quad-engine aircraft.

One plane that does this exceptionally well is the A321, produced by Boeing’s direct competitor Airbus.

The Rise of the A321

A substantial amount of talk around a 757 re-engine can be attributed to the success Airbus has experienced with its A321 series, especially the introduction of the next-generation A321neo and its derivatives.

This program has redefined the single-aisle travel experience in more ways than one. This includes airlines that now can efficiently serve new and existing markets that were potentially out of reach. For customers, well, for some, it has taken away from the space and luxury of flying.

Through the years, Airbus has continued to develop its A321, seeing niches in the market that can be addressed. The A321XLR and even the existing A321LR intensified the competition in the middle of the market segment, with these planes offering impressive range capabilities that encroached on the 757.

As airlines expressed interest in the A321XLR and similar variants, many saw alarm bells begin ringing, maybe not at the American planemaker but for them.

How would Boeing address such demand and a series advancing substantially?

Potential Upgrades To The Boeing 757

Maybe instead of opting for a clean sheet, a more short-term solution, according to some analysts and members of the public, could’ve been a 757X-style plane.

This would’ve been a 757 that would have undergone significant updates, including incorporating new, fuel-efficient engines, potentially sourced from the latest engine technologies available.

Advanced avionics, aerodynamic enhancements, and a revamped interior would have also been part of the package, ensuring that the aircraft would meet all the high standards for operators nowadays.

Moreover, the 757X or MAX would have retained the core strengths that made the previous version popular among many customers.

Why An Upgraded 757 Never Arrived

Despite the evident market demand for a successor to the 757 at different points in the industry, Boeing faced significant challenges that ultimately led to the decision not to relaunch the program.

One of the primary challenges was the struggle to source suitable engines for the 757, as highlighted in an analysis from Leeham back in the mid-2010s.

Their analysis showed that even if Boeing wanted to progress with such a program, there were limited options for sourcing an engine to power the type.

As a result, there wouldn’t be much wiggle room to strive for better efficiency. Additionally, there’d be a substantial wait to get the plane up and running, as while it wasn’t a clean sheet, a lot needed to be considered before a launch could be possible.

Leeham is quoted as saying the 2020s were the earliest possible point for a launch of such a plane, which in hindsight may have made sense timeframe-wise if several things in Boeing’s history never occurred. This could include but not be limited to the 737 MAX crisis, 787 quality assurance difficulties, 777X certification delays, and the arrival of the global pandemic.

Aside from engines, there were other concerns, such as production. Whether it’s 2015 or now, the reality is production on the 757 ceased decades ago, and restarting this presents a challenging task that would come with substantial costs.

This issue, while it could be overcome, can undoubtedly present question marks over whether moving ahead is worth it. Had Boeing initiated the 757X project in the mid-2010s, it might have secured a more favourable position in the market. Additionally, it would’ve provided adequate competition to the A321neo, but would it have been a long-term success?

Ultimately, the delay in responding to the changing dynamics allowed the A321neo and its variants to solidify their presence in the middle of the market, making it more challenging for Boeing to regain a competitive edge. This is a significant factor when many consider Boeing’s current stance on the market.

Boeing Shifts Focus To A Clean Sheet

Boeing’s ultimate decision not to relaunch the 757 was intertwined with its broader strategy, particularly the shift in focus towards the NMA concept. This clean sheet design would’ve redefined the sector, but ultimately, the decision to delay the NMA until the 2030s indicated Boeing’s understanding it would cede ground to Airbus.

When eventually launched, a new plane will likely aim to address the evolving needs of airlines, offering a comprehensive solution that goes beyond the capabilities of the 757. By launch, this could be three decades from the 757s production close. While experiences with the 757 will no doubt be factored into the type of plane offered, Boeing’s next entry will aim to be groundbreaking.  

Should Boeing Have Relaunched The 757?

Should Boeing have launched a 757 re-engine, dubbed the 757X? While on the surface, it seems like a good idea, several analysts have identified many issues about such a move.

A clean sheet, while costly, would’ve likely made more sense for Boeing. However, with no plans to advance with this new plane, many believe it’s too late to enter this market. For Boeing, they will be forced to witness Airbus’ success in the market for at least another decade before moving ahead with their new plane.

Daniel Fowkes
07 Dec 2023
· Aircraft 
· Analysis 

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