American Airlines’ Vice President of Network Planning Charles Schubert said on Thursday that the airline is actively looking to fill a gap soon to be left by aging Boeing 757s. The remarks came during the annual Phoenix International Aviation Symposium in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Mr. Schubert said the Ft. Worth, Texas-based airline has been able to find equivalent replacements for many of the jets in its fleet, the Boeing 757 remains an airplane without a match in the current market. “We’re really looking towards what is going to be an effective replacement to that over time,” he said.
How exactly to replace the venerable and increasingly aging Boeing jets remains a bit of a mystery for many US carriers, not just American. The jet has been used extensively on everything from trans-continental routes between New York and LA to connecting trans-Atlantic cities such as Philadelphia and Manchester, UK by all three major US airlines. While several current and near-term future jets–such as the Boeing 737-900ER, MAX 9, and Airbus’ A321neo–will soon move in to claim the vast majority of the 757s current operating territory, its current trans-Atlantic capability has yet to be replicated.
Despite what appears to be a need, Boeing has thus far declined to provide a revamp of the airliner, repeatedly insisting that a business case for such a jet does not exist. Which leaves only one serious alternative: Airbus.
“There’s not an exact replacement out there [for the Boeing 757],” said Schubert during a panel discussion at the conference, “the A330neo may be the closest approximation to it.”
The A330neo, launched at last year’s Farnborough Airshow, is a re-engined, modified variant of the popular current A330 line. Airbus has committed to increasing the jet’s range, lowering its fuel consumption, and leaving the option to fit more people in that in the current A330 classics. At least to date, American has not outwardly expressed much interest in the jet, leaving only rival Delta having placed an order. The jet is expected to deliver in the last half of 2017.
“I can see a network deployment [for the jet]“, said Schubert, adding that he thought it could find a good home in the east coast-Europe markets; a space that the 757 current occupies.
Yet the A330neo is also slated to be substantially larger than the current 757s it may one day replace. American says it outfits most of its trans-Atlantic two-class 757s with 176 seats, well below the 250 seats the smallest 330neo is projected to have. That size difference prompted, in part, Schubert to later concede that “the A330neo is a more logical replacement for a Boeing 767-300.”
Regardless, Schubert acknowledged that American is “kicking the tires on the A330, to see what it can do.” He also added that the airline has been in talks with Airbus on the jet, though he was quick to add that the discussions have centered around understanding the jets’ respective capabilities and not firming up a deal to purchase.
Schubert also said American was considering the Airbus A321LR as well. The LR, launched last year, greatly expands the range of the traditional A321; up to 500nm further. Schubert said that American was evaluating the aircraft’s seat-mile economics, and whether it could meet and exceed the performance of the current 757 fleet.
Regardless, a decision is not likely to come anytime in the near future. “We have a number of more years to figure this out,” said Schubert, adding that it was “way too early” to be able to confidently comment on the either jet’s future prospects at American.
As for the 757, its days did not appear terribly numbered: “I expect we’ll be flying 757s trans-Atlantic for years to come,” said Schubert.