Thursday, November 6, 2014

The 757 Is Boeing's Achilles Heel

Airbus is left with attacking Boeing's family of aircraft at the 757's Achilles heel. A single aisle 200+ seat mile buster greater than 4,000. Boeing is faced with its aging 757 doing the work over the Atlantic or Transcontinental jaunts in the single aisle markets. These early techno aircraft do not have NG or 787 efficiencies, and Airbus is seizing the opportunity with an attempt of expanding the A321 NEO role as a midsized air bridge maker for the midsized markets. That is where the 757 market happily inhabits.

The canceled 787-300 was the proposal for retiring the 757 back nine years ago. Now Airbus has grown up to the 757 niche market of continent hoping to the mid sized markets, and is now proposing a more capable A321, replacing most specifically the aged 757 with the NEO efficiency upsides. Boeing suggested yawning this one out by a muting the PR button. However, it is very concerned if it should let the 757 just die on the vine since analyst think a 200+ seat single aisle with a range of 4500 miles is a waste of resources since the band-aid for those market requirements say 737-900 MAX at the 199 seat bench mark. The question bounces off the PR walls with a follow-up question. Is the 3,500 mile range of the newest 737-900 be enough with only 199 close friends flying, or will jet-seters prefer a more space compliant and 757 beater with a larger single aisle A321 NEO?

That is the billion dollar Boeing Shrug on the Airbus proposal. Here is what I questioned:

  • How many airplane plates spinning in the air can Boeing afford?
  • What platform can Boeing enhance, the 737 or an all new 757?
  • They killed the 787-300, didn't they?
  • How fast could Boeing reasonably answer any of these questions with a real plan?
  • Is it worth it to fill this niche?
  • Plastic or Metal?
  • New engine type for large single aisle?

Many more questions would float out there for six or more months, before Boeing would present a cost effective expansion of its new airplane building, in light of the 737 Max and 777X programs rapidly expanding already. A mid market Trans Atlantic or Continental market build could be considered only after Boeing turns the corner on one of the two above mentioned programs. The market report is important for Boeing at this juncture. What do the stats guys know about this 200-220 seat and single aisle niche for over 4,000 miles. Airbus maybe just smoking it out at Boeing, because they lost too many opportunities during the last decade and needed this jump start over the old 757 with its A-320 family.

Boeing hasn't been blinking at Airbus decision making during the last dozen years. I don't expect Boeing to knee jerk a response at the 757 attack by Airbus with a renewal of single aisle mid market aircraft. In other words Boeing is satisfied with 737-900 MAX against the European airplane maker. Airbus is satisfied with Boeing thinking that letting the 757 languish is fine. After-all, Boeing let the 787-300 go back in 2004. At that time it weighed all the possibilities in the market place and felt strongly the mid- market 787-300 would not be cost effective with its build and the numbers ordered. It must of felt the 757 would have a sufficient 10 year self life. It is now those ten years and Airbus has come to the market with its extended single aisle concept in that passenger/mile category.

The question still remains, what is Boeing thinking about the Airbus announcement as airlines ponder about letting go of its 757 with more efficient A-321 in that class? The answer is complex. Obviously it has broached the 200 seat arena with the 199 seat 737-900 but with limited range. It would not be cost effective to build a 3,500 mile 787-300, that is really a dead project. It is investing billions into both the Max and the 777X at this time. Airbus thinks this is a gotcha on Boeing.

However, Boeing thinks it has change the market dynamics with its family of aircraft. Routes and flight plans continue to evolve and they think they have the answer in copious amounts of Max and 787's. They have covered every contingency in the market. The 787 is flexible as shown in Japan when flying around passengers in Japan. JAL and ANA are satisfied and are making money hauling in quantity and comfort with the 787-8. A single aisle aircraft could probably do the same work as it crams passengers on board, but JAL's Island hoping 787-8 also flies to Frankfort Germany. The A321 would have to stay home. Boeing has analyzed these market holes, and thinks between the Max family and 787 they have it covered. The very flexible 787 doesn't have to have a single aisle configuration to compete with all other configurations. They 757 is going to slowly fade away to the secondary arline companies found in developing continents or fringe markets.