RENTON - Production of more than 1,000 Boeing 757 airliners ended in Renton in January 2004 with the last delivery to a Chinese airline. That was almost ten years ago. Now, talk among analysts and some others in the aviation industry is building for a replacement for the 757, a 200 seat, single aisle jetliner that could handle long, thin routes like the one Iceland Air operates between Sea-Tac and Reykjavik.
The 757 went away because the 737 grew in capacity. A 737-900 is around 180 seats. As the 737 grew, the 787 was developed. The 787-8 starts at 210 seats in a multi class configuation. For airlines looking for a new plane in that 30 seat gap there's nothing available.
"As long as Airbus doesn't come out with another plane first, they're (Boeing) not vulnerable," said Scott Hamilton, an industry analyst with Leeham and Co. with decades of experience in the airline industry.
So far, Airbus has no plans for a plane larger than the A321 NEO and the Boeing 737 MAX 9. Both jets are re-engined and upgraded versions of current models. But Hamilton says neither one has the range of the 757.
"It's the performance more than the seats," said Hamilton. "The 757 is just a jack rabbit."
Hamilton says the 757 can more easily fly out of high altitude airports, has a longer range than either the Boeing 737 MAX or the Airbus 320 Neo families. He cites flights like Phoenix to Honolulu that the 757 can handle that the others can't.
Right now, Boeing's counting on the 787-8 to handle those longer, thinner routes even though it's considered on the larger side for some of them. But Boeing is always looking at its options and planning decades into the future for new aircraft and new technologies. A year ago, the U.S. Patent office approved a concept for a Y-1 airplane, a 757 sized jet with an oval shaped fuselage that allows for two aisles like the 787, but in a 2-3-2 seating arrangement.
"Is it something we're looking at? Yeah. We're always looking," said Randy Tinseth, Boeing's V.P. for marketing who is in constant communications with airlines.
Tinseth says the planes that get built are ones that the airlines want and Boeing can build profitably.
"So we're always looking at what we can do. So, when we're ready at some point to make that decision, we'll have everything lined up and ready to go," Tinseth added.
But a 757 replacement probably may not get major traction for a decade. Right now the company is busy developing the family of 737-MAX jets, the 787-9 is in flight test, the 787-10 comes after that. And it's expected Boeing will launch the new composite wing 777 X next month. That plane expected to break 400 seats.