Delta 757 on approach

A Delta 757 in the Sky Team livery on approach to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport

The recent announcement by Delta Air Lines that it will be ordering 100 new Airbus A321neo jets could put a nail, or perhaps rivet, into the coffin of a 757 replacement.

I knew this Delta announcement was coming years ago when I was working for Boeing and had an insightful chat with a very high-ranking Boeing executive. The chat was not in a public forum, so I will not say who it was, but trust me – this person knew what he was talking about. He told me that he felt Delta may never buy from Boeing again. He went on to talk about how Delta’s former CEO, Richard Anderson, and its current leadership, was pretty much married to the French conglomerate

Prior to Delta, Anderson made a couple of big Airbus purchases while heading Northwest Airlines. Delta’s entire A319, A320 and A330 fleet comes from Northwest. So what’s this have to do with the flirtation of a new 757?  Delta is far and above the biggest 757 user with 128 757s, a total that was boosted after the 2008 merger with Northwest Airlines. United’s the next-largest passenger carrier at 77 and American is third with 52. The aircraft is still popular in the US, but not as much overseas.

Icelandair 757's at Sea-Tac Airport

Icelandair’s specially painted 757s. The airline has 28 757s – the backbone of its trans-Atlantic flights.

There is obviously a demand and it’s not a secret. For several years, Boeing’s sales honchos liked to fuel talk of a new and improved 757. These folks talked about “studying the issue” about as much as Cleveland Browns fans talk about winning a single game. Meanwhile, Airbus is doing its best Tom Brady impression by racking up championship rings – thousands of A321 orders and deliveries. Now, Delta has just spiked the football with this big A321 order.

It’s widely known in the airplane sales industry Airbus can literally give planes away, with the carrot that the purchasing airline then remain an Airbus customer for future orders. Boeing’s strategy is to provide a quality product and charge more for it, contending their in-service performance is better than Airbus, so a more expensive plane that isn’t in the maintenance shop is ultimately better for airlines.

This A321 order goes beyond just Delta. The airline also owns 49 percent of both Virgin Atlantic and Aeromexico. It has a ten-percent equity and a board seat with Air France-KLM, 9.5 percent of Brazil-based GOL, and 3.5 percent of China Eastern. By the time this is done, Delta may try to buy part of me – but I’m not selling out unless they bring back those yummy honey-roasted peanuts! Delta’s checkbook is now a worldwide power and its influence over joint venture partners could spell even more orders for Airbus and the A321.

Delta 757

A 757 charter at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, carrying football’s Minnesota Vikings

Personally, I love this plane. Ask any pilot (I often do) and they’ll say the 757 is a dream to fly, which performs better than both the 737 and A321. Sure, they’re biased, but 757 pilots I talk with say it’s the best plane Boeing has ever made. Aside from the legendary 747, the 757 is the most visually unique airplane Boeing has ever made in my view. It’s long and lean with an impressive wingspan. It’s a plane I chose to pay a little higher airfare for, just to take on my long-ago honeymoon. I’ve also flown it on a trans-Atlantic route to Berlin from Newark, and many times domestically.

Could there still be some form of new middle market Boeing airplane? Never say never. The big question for cost-cutting Boeing would be where to build it. Internally, Boeing considers Washington a “high cost” state, having cut around 20,000 jobs in the past five years. Expanding Boeing’s South Carolina or St. Louis operations won’t be quick turns.

Delta’s order shows the A321 has gobbled up the 757’s old market and Boeing might be too late. The 787-8 provides a market just beyond the 757 and the Boeing 737 MAX 9 and MAX 10 come up short with  distance and capacity. So Boeing will need firm evidence of a market that’s still out there for any new plane.

So 757 fans, enjoy it while you can. At least one consolation for “Made in the USA” supporters – newer A321s are being built in Mobile, AL – ironically not far from Delta’s Atlanta headquarters.

CORRESPONDENT - SEATTLE, WA. A lifelong aviation fanatic and former TV news reporter, Brian’s unique flight experiences include an Air Force B-1 Bomber and Marine Osprey in addition to working for Boeing and the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

http://www.airlinereporter.com
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25 Comments
Peter Harrington

As an Airbus employee, I find this post somewhat offensive. We don’t give planes away and in many cases, our aircraft are easier to service and maintain then Boeing aircraft. Boeing gave the 757 market to Airbus in 2004 and we have taken the A321 leaps and bounds from what it was upon service entry in 1994. Just as nobody ever thought the CRJ would carry 100 passengers, nobody thought the A321 would become the next 757.

The A320 family is evidence of excellence through evolution and clearly the world’s airlines are responding to what is a superior product with better comfort and convenience for passengers and crew as well as an operating philosophy that creates operational synergies that make operating an Airbus fleet more sensible. Boeing has a very well documented history of being arrogant and thinking that they are supreme…well, if that is the case, why is the 737 Max not a raging success? Why is it Boeing suddenly has an interest in Embraer because Bombardier has a superior product that Boeing can’t even touch?

Taking pot shots at a competitor who has been more innovative and creative and responsive to the market not only is cheap and immature, it brings down the quality of this website. Boeing has rested on its laurels for far too long and in many cases the corporate arrogance has finally come around to bite them. The 737 MAX is a bandaid solution and airlines clearly see that the A320 is the right plane to serve more markets. And while some airlines may stay with the 737, Boeing has nothing that can compete with the A321LR and that is the real reason Delta chose the A321.

I agree with all you say. The breathtaking, meritless Boeing claim against Bombardier shows either arrogance, or stupidity, or both. While the 757 is a nice ride, all current 737’s are cramped and uncomfortable when compared with A320’s and 321’s. Having just ridden in economy (9 abreast) on a 787, I’ll take the A330 anytime.

Perhaps Boeing should stop shareholder distributions for a bit, stop whining, and try some real innovation for a change.

Peter Harrington

Larry;

I fully agree with your reply. Boeing can add an LED lighting system, large overhead bins and other features to the cabin, it’s akin to putting make-up on a pig. You will never be able to get past the fact that the 737 is the spawn from the 707 fuselage design (as is the 757). So you have a 59 year old fuselage design that hasn’t really been changed.

My grandfather was the lead engineer on the L-1011 and he had a plaque in his office that read “Innovate or Perish” and I largely believe that Boeing has failed to innovate in the single-aisle sector. An Airline as smart and intelligent as Delta doesn’t do anything without thinking it through carefully, and you know damn well that Delta would have examined every single detail of both aircraft to determine what is the best plane for the job. Cost would factor into it, sure. But I truly think that the Chicago/Seattle arrogance is now finally coming around to hurt Boeing. Boeing has really hurt themselves with the CSeries dispute and I think that the airlines are responding. If I ran an airline, I certainly wouldn’t be rushing to Boeing’s door to do business. If that’s how they treat someone who isn’t a competitor, how are they going to treat an airline customer? My gut feeling is that the repercussions from the CSeries trade dispute are going to be felt for a very long time to come, and I question if Boeing has the ability to recover. We may be witnessing a very significant shakeup in the commercial sector.

Larry Dingman

Hi Peter,

You must have great stories about development of the 1011. I was a purser for TWA for 27 years, and probably spent thousands of hours onboard ours. I started in early 1973 and remember having Lockheed engineers on many flights crawling around the aircraft checking/evaluating. One once told me, “Look to Lockheed for leadership and unfortunately, Boeing for airplanes.” As for the DC10, who thought it a good idea to route triple redundant hydraulic lines within inches of each other, with obviously fatal results?

I find the latest 737 interior claustrophobic AFTER the overhead bins are closed. After having spent thousands more hours on 707’s, I can’t detect a bit of difference on the latest 737’s. Having now hit almost a million miles on United, I silently groan when I see my flight’s a 737 and not an A320.

Had looked forward to 1st flight on the 787 and was sorely disappointed—the opposite of how impressed I was on the A380. Am about to subject myself to economy on Emirates JFK-MXP so may alter that opinion.

Peter Harrington

Hi Larry;

My grandfather was long retired by the time I came around, but there were many stories that he told about his career. He started with Avro Canada on the CF-105, Jetliner and CF-100 Canuck programs, went to Hawker Siddeley after they acquired Avro, then he was courted by Lockheed and went to California. After the TriStar program ended, he worked with Bombardier (well, then it was still de Havilland Canada) on the Dash 7, Dash 8 and CRJ/Challenger programs.

At the same time, he was working for Lockheed, his wife (my grandmother) was a Flight Attendant for Air Canada, and she often gave him insight into certain aspects of how things should be done on the TriStar. She was lucky enough to be on the first Viscount, DC-8, DC-9, L-1011 and 747 flights. …she left Air Canada as #3 in Flight Attendant seniority. She still recalls flying on the very early Canadair North Star flights. He always felt strongly that the TriStar needed to be built to not meet the standard of the time in regard to safety and engineering, but whenever possible, form must follow function and safety should triumph over cost…which is really reflected in the accident rate of the L-1011 against any other first-generation widebody aircraft. He never really spoke a lot about it, but I know my grandmother always said that it bothered him that the TriStar was the first widebody to crash – despite the aircraft being exonerated and actually it’s ruggedness being responsible for so many people surviving an unsurvivable accident. He also was very angry that Douglas, a company he had a great deal of respect for, was so cavalier with the DC-10. When THY981 occurred and with the world watching the court case closely, he was totally disgusted that Douglas knew that the cargo door was a problem (hell, American Airlines had a dress rehearsal for the Turkish crash over Windsor, Ontario….yet they did nothing) For Grandfather, the final straw was the Applegate memorandum. When that came out in court, he lost any and all respect he had for McDonnell Douglas.

Growing up, my grandfather had a Grumman Turbo Mallard that he kept in Toronto and flew to our cottage, and that is the plane I learned to fly on. Sadly after his death, the Turbo Mallard was sold and is now somewhere in Florida I believe…

I’m lucky to have most of his L-1011 drawings, blueprints, and marketing materials that he held on to….literally boxes of stuff!

Very respectfully, the current EU corruption probes into Airbus’ management tend to say otherwise. Airbus has also publicly stated to it’s investors that the results of these corruption probes will most likely harm its bottom line, which is about as close to a tacit admission of guilt as one can get. Bribes and kickbacks plus government subsidies has meant that Airbus has very nearly been able to give planes away at barely above and sometimes below cost. Let’s not get into the 1980s where Airbus affiliated European countries charged airlines flying Airbuses lower landing fees than those flying Boeings, Lockheeds or Douglases in an effort to “help” Airbus win sales. “Pressure” was more like it. There are many other examples like this.

Now, has Boeing also been involved in shenanigans like these? You bet they have! Boeing is not the guiltless innocent that they like claiming to be – far from it! I’m not a total Boeing fanboy but I believe in equal time. Both Airbus and Boeing have misbehaved, but Airbus has, over the last couple of decades, been a bit more obvious and flagrant about it, is all.

Joe Smith

Wait…Airbus sales were lead by John Leahy for many years and you call Boeing “arrogant”? Pot meet kettle.

Peter Harrington

Sounds more like a case of sour grapes…and Gordon Bethune, Harry Stonecipher, and Dave Lewis all had the highest ethics in the industry…

If you don’t think that Boeing is a far more arrogant company than Airbus, I would suggest that you remove your blinders. Airbus took the 757 market when Boeing abandoned it with the termination of 757 production. They coughed up the 737-900 (which was never a 757 replacement) and Airbus brought the A321 to where it is now. Boeing has consistently felt that they are too big to fail and that the product line is perfect as it is….but don’t take my word for it – the world’s airlines are clearly the ones responding.

Boeing’s arrogance can further be found in the CSeries dispute – Bombardier was never a threat to Boeing. They have never tried to compete with Boeing and the CSeries at it’s largest still is only a marginal threat. What they pulled in launching a pointless, protectionist action is just about the most arrogant, assinine company move. There is no question, it will hurt them badly…as it should.

Peter…where did I state that Boeing management hasn’t been arrogant? By definiton, executive leadership at major corporations are arrogant. There are very few exceptions.

By the way, Airbus believed (arrogantly perhaps) that they’d sell 1200 A380s. How’d that work out? Also, the A350-1000 isn’t selling. Nor is the A330-800neo. Airbus has done well with their A320 series. There is no doubt about that. It too is an old design that has been upgraded/improved over the years just as the 737 models have. The A320 has a slightly wider cabin indeed vs the 737. However, the question is whether this is significant for passengers for the relatively short flights most of these airplanes take. I’ve flown on both many times…and would argue that airline choices on seats and seat pitch are much more important (along with service levels).

The whole point of this article was about the A321….I’m not talking about the other programs. The A350-1000 is not a matter of concern right now, and the A380 is a white elephant – yes. But Airbus doesn’t dictate how the market will go. Boeing’s 747-8I is no screaming hell, but it’s certainly been outsold by the A380, which in every measurable factor from a passenger perspective, the A380 is a more comfortable aircraft than the 747-8.

Regardless – the crux is this: Boeing had this market and they handed it over to Airbus. For the past 14 years, Boeing has offered marginally improved 737s that are nothing more than a band-aid solution to what is a major hole in the product lineup. The A321 has been incrementally improved, modified and enhanced to the point that it is now far superior to anything in the class that Boeing offers and Boeing has lost this market. That’s not a PR line coming from Toulouse, it’s supported by aircraft sales, deliveries and a very healthy order backlog.

Jonathan in France

I am partisan living next to Toulouse and the Airbus test track is right over my head. Many years ago I worked in Detroit and remember the auto executives dismissing contemptuously the idea that Americans would ever buy Japanese cars. Boeing with its largely antique product lines and hysterical protectionism seems to operate with a very similar attitude.

Jean Delisi

China is going to be a big force in aircraft manufacturing. I think Boeing is going to be in deep trouble. Let’s face it, Americans lack innovation, cannot build anything of quality anymore. I believe Boeing started going downhill with the acquisition of McDonnell Douglas. If Boeing doesn’t be careful, I believe they will be a takeover target. They need to clean house starting from the top.

I just flew on 3 Boeing products, 737-800, 787-8, 777-300. There is just no comparison to the Airbus product, the Boeing’s are loud, feel cheap and what is up with windows that don’t fully dim? The 737
is the worst offender, I felt like I was flying in a bloated coffin with horrendous seats. The 787 felt cheap, creaked and moaned and seriously thought it was going to break apart. The saving grace was mid trip we flew on a Cathay A330 (which was older) but so much nicer than any Boeing.
I would think the reason Delta is going all Airbus is that they don’t want to deal with garbage anymore.

A lot of that has to do with the way the airlines choose to outfit their airplanes – what kind of seats, how much plastic here or there, insulation, dimming or non-dimming windows, lav size, etc. The fact that a plane is creaky isn’t a fault of the plane, necessarily, but of how the airline chose to spec and equip it. Airbii can be just as cramped as Boeings if the airlines choose to put in narrower seats. My second worst flight ever was in a United A320 configured like Spam in a can – super narrow seats and near zero legroom. My first worst was in a 757, but that was due to the insane passengers and power mad FAs aboard, not due to the type of aircraft.

Now, if an airline chooses to install wider seats (thus increasing the plane’s weight slightly) and other amenities, then yes an Airbus will likely be more comfy than an equivalent Boeing. But, that’s the airline’s choice, not the plane’s. It’s a lot like buying a car; the buyer decides which trim package to purchase, not the car.

Peter Harrington

Actually, your logic regarding the seating configuration and seat width is not exactly correct. Airbus started with a wider fuselage to begin with – the standard Airbus economy class seat is 18″ in width – that is the baseline configuration for any airline. Should they choose to go wider, fine. But the 18″ seat is already the factory production standard. When you start with a wider fuselage, you can start to have a more comfortable cabin.

I really don’t understand where the unfounded comments come from regarding Airbus giving aircraft away. Frankly, I think that it is a case of sour grapes that Airbus was thought to be the perennial underdog that could never succeed and the fact that Airbus has begun to beat Boeing means that people who subscribe to the “If it’s not Boeing, I’m not Going” philosophy have to drum up these stories to discredit the superior manufacturer. I seem to recall another desperate aviation company known as McDonnell Douglas giving away MD-80s to American….yet why is it nobody brings this up? Airbus is always the bad guy.

It really is a childish and uninformed viewpoint to suggest that Airbus always operates as a loss. The fact that Airbus has admitted that there were managerial problems is not an admission of guilt as much as it is a commitment to transparency. Boeing is not the white knight you suggest it to be. Never has been and never will be. The bottom line is that it is a dirty industry that is feast or famine. Airbus would not still be in business if aircraft were “given away”. I also seem to think that Boeing gave some 737s away to United last year….yet you seem to neglect to mention this point.

And as far as corruption probes go, I seem to recall that the Boeing tanker corruption scam is still tied up in court and there hasn’t been any finality…

Joe Smith

Peter, I think it has been well-understood over the years that Airbus uses some…shall we say….”creative” ways to seal aircraft deals in some parts of the world…where corruption laws are non-existent or where corruption is deeply embedded in the government.

Airbus builds good airplanes. They have been very successful. Same thing goes for Boeing. But to say that Boeing is “arrogant” and Airbus isn’t is absurd.

Joe Smith

Kelly…Delta currently flies new 737-900ERs and are continuing to take delivery of more of them. Look it up.

Are you suggesting they knowingly bought “garbage” airplanes? Sounds like an insult to Delta management…

Plane-Crazy Joe

Brian, NOT ALL 330s migrated over to Delta from Northworst. Delta’s NEW increased weight 333s were ordered NEW; just a couple of years ago – AFTER the acquisition/merger. Some have Delivered, with more to come…

Check your Paragraph 2, Line 3. I think you intended to write: Never BUY – not “Never BY”. Yes?!

Hey Joe,

Thanks for catching that mistake (by vs buy), totally my fault doing that in the editing process!

David | AirlineReporter

bigbenaugust

I was so stoked to be on an older AA 757 on a PHX-CLT flight back in October. Boarding from the second door, drop-down LCDs for a legit inflight movie and everything. I will miss them when they’re gone.

I actually think Delta not buying the 757 replacement may be a good thing for Boeing. Why?
Well consider that the 757 never really sold outside the US with US carriers, it wasn’t really a global product so it didn’t really have to compete for sales.
The new MOM plane, with the potential for a fresh design, will have to find sales beyond two of the three mainline US carriers. This means Latin America, Europe, SE Asia, even higher density 737 routes in China. All in all, this will create a better product. Now better products don’t necessarily been a better ride for us passengers as Boeing and Airbus sell to airlines not us. But it hopefully will mean the entry into the market of an elliptical fuselage design allowing a wider cabin for passengers, but not costing more for the airlines. A more fuel efficient design will also help keep ticket prices down.
Hooray for Delta buying a fleet of planes designed in the 80s, and allowing Boeing (the opportunity only at this point) to again deliver to the market a cutting edge aircraft.
We just need to see what Boeing does – just because they have the ball on the Airbus 40yd line doesn’t mean they can score, but fingers crossed!

Kevin Horn

I think that the 757 is certainly a unique aircraft and the key aspects that make it a dream to fly, i.e. wingspan and power, make it un-economical to operate in a lot of other scenarios with wide body gate spacing and increased fuel consumption. United is increasing density on their 753s big time to help shore up the operational gaps on these birds but if a 737-900ER can operate SAN-EWR with a full load of pax, then the advantage of a 753 is really not significant operationally, as it currently stands.

I’m really intrigued by the recent changes that Airbus is making to the A321neo including the ACF option (which is really an effective weight saving measure to correct for a design mistake of placing door 2L too close to the wing fairing and engine to be operationally useful for left turn boarding to first) and LR variants. With these I think we will really start to see the 321 open up new routes. I, for one, am fully on-board with increased point-point availability TATL that these birds may bring in the next 10 years.

Plane-Crazy Joe

I agree with the other bloggers’ comparisons of A&B products. I’ve flown 333s, 332s, 343s, 380s and all Single-Aisle Busses EXCERT the 318 – however, no NEOs yet. Even Eastern A300s, years ago. Seating back in Cattle Class is more comfortable in Busses than in Boeings. Seats are a usually bit wider in Busses. Airbus widebodies seem to me to have quieter cabins than Boeing’s. The 380’s is EXTRAORDINARILY quiet! Furthermore, I’ve done two Long-Hauls on UA 788s. Nine-abreast seating is QUITE uncomfortable! Even so, I’ve booked an UA 788 for this Spring: DEN>NRT>DEN. It’s a MP Award Trip – so I’m paying only their bag fees. ( I don’t do Revenue Flights on United anymore – after having endured countless Flightmares!) However, I factored into my decision extended Spotting Time I’ll have at DEN between my Inbound and Outbound connecting flights from/to ATL. (I NEED Frontier 320s, NEOs and 321s.) Haven’t yet given JAL’s eight abreast International 787s a try yet – maybe someday!

My assessment of 787s is that it’s a gorgeous airplane to view and photography from the OUTSIDE. But all the “hype” about cabin innovations and improvements are, well, just HYPERBOLE! The larger windows have greater area at the TOP – useless to me as spotter! Perhaps NASA astronauts would enjoy stargazing from a 787 or meteorologists would enjoy viewing cloud ABOVE a 787?? Furthermore, the darkening window is a ROYAL PAIN – you know where! TOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO labor intensive… to waste my time with!! The higher humidity level in 787s is a non-factor for me. And the improved Honey Bucket – well, who cares about THAT!?

FYI, the current issue ( December) of Air International mag. (here, in the US) has a special DETAILED report on the 777X. It reports that the 777X will be 2 inches wider on both sides of the cabin. Maybe this will improve seating discomfort issues – at least, back in Cattle Class? Maybe Boeing will do what Airbus did in the 380 to suppress noise?

Living here in JAW-ja (aka Georgia), I’m certain I’ll eventually have flights on Delta 321 CEOs; as their fleet grows – 34 examples now, I think. Perhaps out to SEA this Summer for my annual Boeing spotting mission? Also looking ahead to flying DL’s CS100s. I’ve seen Swiss CS100s and 300s in action at LHR – DEFINITELY lower/quieter engine noise. If mag reports I’ve seen/read … are accurate, inside the cabin should be a SWEET ride!

Somone’s an avid A.Netter…

The fact is the 757 is actually the worst selling Boeing jet model, and while it’s been popular in recent years in its over-extended capacity as a sub-par TATL long-thin enabler, the overall market will gladly accept a successor from Boeing (if they ever get off their ass and market the damn thing) or Airbus should the market *actually* call for one. So far it seems most companies are happy with the A321, and Delta will be too. Boeing missed the mark when the A321neo came to market without an answer, not with the Delta order.

As just a flying customer, who can only afford coach, there’s always some head shaking when seeing these arguments by “experts”. All I can tell you is that flying in row 29 on a 737 for 6+ hours, as I did last week, is a dreadful and unhealthy situation (been sick ever since). From a user experience (which is what ultimately what this should be about) 757 not much better. I’d far rather fly on any plane with a 2 seat configuration on one side (A330, B767) than the cattle car that is a 737 or 757. But, the fact that Boeing as a company doesn’t have a problem in taking $8B in tax exemptions from the State of WA, and then laying off 20K employees in that state speaks not only to the arrogance of their management, but the stupidity of our politicians. I can’t speak to Airbus.

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