Check it out!
The Boeing 757 is an iconic plane in its own right, though not always as distinguishable to the untrained eye as a 747 or A380. It has been in production from 1981 to 2004, and in service since 1983. In fact, many airlines are holding onto their 757s tightly because of the versatility offered by this plane, in range, passenger capacity, and flight abilities.
While browsing Reddit’s /r/Aviation subreddit, I came across an article about Norwegian looking to Airbus to use the A321neo to take the place of their 757s. While Norwegian is a staunch Boeing supporter and purchasing their new 737-MAX, they recognize that the 737 simply does not have the range that the 757 does, even with the improvements provided by the MAX variants. The A321neo’s Long Range variant, however, does meet this need.
Benjamin from Business Insider goes on to explain that the issue is the size of the engines and the way the original 737 was designed. As I mentioned the other day, he A321neo-LR uses the CFM LEAP-1A engines, while the 737-MAX uses the CFM LEAP-1B engines:
An upgrade to a larger engine will likely involve a redesign of the 737’s landing gear. That’s because the 737 was designed in the 1960s to be powered by Pratt & Whitney’s JT8D engine with a much more compact fan diameter of 49 inches.
This means that whether it decides to modify the 737 or to build a new plane from scratch, it’ll be a move that will likely cost billions.
Also in the Business Insider article, there is a link to Patrick Smith’s Ask the Travel, where he discusses the shortcomings of the 737 from a pilot’s perspective. Most of what is discussed won’t directly affect a passenger, but one excerpt stands out:
Short runway? Stiff headwinds? Full payload? No problem. With 180 passengers on board, the plane can safely depart from a 6,000-foot runway, lifting off at a measly 135 knots (assuming flaps at 15 or 20), climb directly to 39,000 feet, and fly clear across the country. Nothing else can do that.
While the cramped cockpit of the 737 (versus A320, A321, or 757) isn’t something we won’t experience as passengers, one thing we can appreciate is versatility. The 757’s cabin is also roomier than the 737, as the 737 was initially designed as a regional jet.
Like I said, there are many airlines that are holding onto their 757s (Delta still has more than 150 in service) to be able to optimize the ratio of passengers to fuel-costs and maintenance. If the A321neo-LR can fill the void left by aging 757s, it would be a huge win for Airbus.
No, I don’t mean the Messianic figure from the Matrix movies, I am referring to Airbus’s denotation of improved engine performance and mileage: “New Engine Option”. These two narrow-body planes are reported to have an improved fuel efficiency estimated at 15% over their traditional counterparts, which will allow them to fly from the East Coast to Western Europe. This efficiency is due to a combination of new manufacturing technologies (and materials) leading to lighter planes , more efficient engines, and wingtip devices to help reduce drag.
Until now, we were limited to 757 variants when it came to narrow-body options to cross the Atlantic. While the 757 does offer lie-flat seats in certain configurations – Raleigh to Paris on Delta, for example, it is definitely aging and it shows. More fuel efficient options should translate to cheaper tickets for the passengers, and more options as well.
The 737-MAX family will use the CFM LEAP-1B engine, which is larger and more efficient than the older CFM56 engines found on the bulk of the 737 fleet. The estimated range is between 4,000 and 4,400 nautical miles for all but the ‘MAX 200’ variant, which is unique to RyanAir as a variant of the 737-8.
Additionally, it will have new wingtip devices which further boost its fuel efficiency. This combination of wingtip technologies is referred to as a “split scimitar winglet” by Boeing.
Though Southwest will be the launch customer of the MAX 7 and MAX 8 variants (Lion Air will be the launch customer of the MAX 9 and RyanAir of the MAX 200), I fully expect other airlines to replace their aging 737 population with these, especially when it comes to profit margins and fuel costs.
A320neo & A321neo
Both the A320 and A321 narrow-body aircraft from Airbus offer ‘neo’ options, and both are driven by CFM LEAP engines, though -1A. As with the 737-MAX, these planes also have redesigned wingtip devices (referred to as ‘sharklets’ by Airbus).