Airbus Vies With Boeing to Fill Niche Once Held by 757 Jetliner

A Boeing Co. jetliner that went out of production almost a decade ago is emerging as a competitive focal point in the U.S. planemaker’s fight for dominance with Airbus Group NV.

The Boeing 757, the longest narrow-body ever, triggered dueling views in front of an aerospace-industry audience on Monday over which manufacturer could best replace it. Airbus said a long-range version of its new A321neo eventually would take over the 757’s market niche, while Boeing said buyers are seeking an even larger aircraft.

“What customers want is a plane that’s bigger than a 757 with 25 percent more range,” Boeing Marketing Vice President Randy Tinseth said at the annual conference of the International Society of Transport Aircraft Trading in Phoenix.

Boeing and Airbus are sparring over how to plug the size gap between their existing narrow-bodies, the workhorses of airlines worldwide, and the smallest twin-aisle jets. The 757 won U.S. buyers because it could fly transcontinental routes with as many as 243 passengers in a two-class cabin, but Boeing didn’t see enough demand and delivered the last plane in 2005. There are still more than 1,030 of the 757s in service.

A321neos with extra fuel tanks will take the place of all the 757s now in service, Airbus Chief Operating Officer John Leahy said at the Istat conference. The A321neo, boasting more efficient Pratt & Whitney engines like the rest of the neo line, will burn 30 percent less fuel than the 757, he said.

Airbus is upgrading its top-selling A320 family to create the so-called neo versions of the plane. The Toulouse, France-based planemaker is due to hand over the first A320neo this year, followed by the larger A321neo later this decade.

Neo Customers

In January, Air Lease Corp. Chief Executive Officer Steve Udvar-Hazy agreed to be the first customer for the long-range variant of the A321neo, adding to pressure on Boeing to devise an offering larger than the narrow-body 737 but smaller than the 787 Dreamliner.

That review is under way, Tinseth said at the Istat event. Boeing has said previously that it was meeting with customers to discuss such an aircraft.

Boeing beat Airbus in 2014 for a third consecutive year to be the world’s largest planemaker, a title cemented by the U.S. company’s advantage in twin-aisle models like the Dreamliner and the 777. Orders for the A320neo have helped buoy Airbus.

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